Xavier loses a heartbreaker to ‘Nova

After trailing by 17, the Musketeers battled back but lost 64-60 at Cintas on Wednesday

By Joe Clark, Sports Editor

Xavier’s furious second-half comeback fell short on Wednesday night against No. 14 Villanova, as the No. 17 Musketeers lost 64-60 at Cintas Center. 

Senior guard Paul Scruggs finished with 15 points, including some clutch shots down the stretch. Senior guard Nate Johnson also chipped in with 15 points of his own. 

Neither team got off to a strong start offensively, as the Musketeers managed to start just 1-8 from the field while Villanova was 2-8 at the first media timeout with the two knotted up at 5-5. 

After a bucket by graduate guard Colin Gillespie with 13:32 to go, senior guard Adam Kunkel got the crowd back into it with a three to give Xavier an 8-7 lead. Gillespie answered with a three-point play, and a made three by junior guard Justin Moore gave Villanova an early 13-8 lead. 

Villanova grew the lead to 21-13 and later grew it to 34-17 on the strength of a 13-2 run where Xavier looked hapless offensively. Villanova also killed Xavier on the boards, out-rebounding them 24-15 in the first half, including a 9-4 advantage on the offensive glass. 

The Musketeers offensive numbers in the first half were downright ugly, as they shot just 7-25 from the field, including 2-12 from three-point range. Beating a team as talented as Villanova is hard enough, but when a team shoots 28% from the floor, that just makes it exponentially harder. 

Villanova also had 12 second-chance points in the first half, compared to just four for the Musketeers. Xavier also struggled inside, going just 3-8 on layups in the first half. Senior Nate Johnson led Xavier with eight first-half points. 

Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer

The second half started out with some questionable officiating. After Xavier cut the lead to nine, Moore looked like he double-dribbled but there was no call, and he kicked it out to Gillespie for three. After another Gillespie basket, junior Jack Nunge collected an offensive rebound down the other end and was fouled.

It looked like Nunge was in the act of shooting when the foul was committed and he made the layup, but it was ruled to be on the floor, and Xavier ended up without a point on the possession. A catch-and-shoot three by Johnson cut the Villanova lead to seven at 45-38, and it seemed like Xavier was gaining momentum. 

A miss by senior guard Paul Scruggs on the next possession led to a score by Moore down the other end, and Nova regained a nine-point lead. Johnson answered back again though with a floater in the lane, but a layup by Villanova senior forward Brandon Slater and a Johnson missed heat-check three killed some of the Xavier momentum. 

An and-one by redshirt sophomore forward Eric Dixon gave Villanova a 54-42 lead with 10:09 to play. An unforced Xavier turnover followed, and any momentum the Musketeers had was officially gone. 

Xavier missed a few chances to chip away at the lead later in the half, as junior forward Zach Freemantle missed a three and couldn’t finish at the rim on the next possession. Villanova maintained a 54-45 lead with 6:30 left in the game. For the next five minutes though, it was all Xavier. 

The Musketeers went on a 10-0 run and tied the game at 56-56 after a Scruggs three. 

Moore answered with an and-one, and after a missed three by sophomore forward Colby Jones, Brandon Slater went 1-2 at the free throw line to give the Wildcats a four-point lead. With 51.3 seconds left, Nunge made two free throws to cut it to 60-58, and Dixon was called for a travel with 29.2 seconds to go. Scruggs missed at the rim, and Moore knocked down two free throws to give Villanova a 62-58 advantage. 

Scruggs scored with 10.2 seconds left, and the Musketeers took a timeout down 62-60. Moore went back to the line with six seconds left, and knocked down both free throws to essentially end the Musketeers’ night. 

Scruggs missed a three down the other end and then Nunge made a three-pointer as time expired, but it didn’t count-and Villanova walked away with a 64-60 win. It was Xavier’s first loss at home on the season. 

The Musketeers fell to 12-3 with the loss, but can get back on track with a win Saturday at home against the Creighton Bluejays, who will come to town at 10-4. 

Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer