Xavier fought but couldn’t upset the No. 11 Providence Friars on Wednesday
By Will Pembroke, Debate & Discussion/Inside Xavier Sports Show Manager
In what very well could have been the best game of the college basketball regular season, Xavier men’s basketball fell in a heartbreaker to the Providence Friars 99-92 in triple overtime.
Early in the game, Xavier found its stride defensively after struggling in its previous loss to St. John’s. Perimeter defense was especially good for Xavier from senior guard Paul Scruggs and sophomore guards Colby Jones and Dwon Odom. However, both Scruggs and Jones struggled to hold on to the ball with six turnovers combined in the first half.
Junior forward Zach Freemantle led Xavier in scoring at halftime with ten points, shooting five for seven from the floor.
For Providence in the first half, redshirt junior guard Jared Bynum was hot from behind the arc, finishing with eight points in the half. Senior A.J. Reeves added in two threes and seven points.
There were no lack of highlight plays down the stretch of the first half for Xavier. At the 7:03 mark, Odom assisted on an alley-oop dunk to Zach Freemantle that silenced the Friar crowd. Shortly thereafter with 4:51 to go on the half, Paul Scruggs penetrated the soft Providence defense for a rim-rocking, one-hand slam.
As the half wound to a close, Scruggs attacked the paint and drew a shooting foul with 5.1 seconds left, made both free throws, and put Xavier up 36-34. Providence responded quickly when graduate guard Al Durham did the same as Scruggs with 1.8 seconds left to go, tying the game 36-36 at halftime.
As the second half began, Xavier proved their first half defensive effort was no fluke. At the 15:20 mark, Odom responded quickly to one of five Bynum threes. The Xavier guard finished off an and-one layup to keep Xavier in the lead.
For the Friars, Durham exited the game after taking a nasty spill on a driving layup attempt with 13:09 left to go in the second half. Despite needing to head into the locker room for medical attention. Durham, who has been playing this season with a sport hernia in his back, returned to the floor for the final eight minutes of the ball game.
The officiating tightened up significantly in the second half, with both teams getting into early foul trouble in the half.
Despite a barrage of threes and big plays coming from Providence in the second half, senior guard Adam Kunkel kept Xavier alive with his sweet shooting.
The game took a sudden turn with three minutes to go in the game. Following an absolute ankle-breaker by Dwon Odom, Providence players complained of water condensation on the court. A few minutes later, arena operations at the Dunkin Donuts Center realized the stadium was leaking water from its ceiling. Play resumed after a lengthy 15-minute pause.
Xavier and Providence continued to trade baskets all the way down to the wire, where Adam Kunkel left a baseline jump shot just short, sending the Musketeers to their first overtime game of the year.
Overtime proved to be much the same in this tightly-contested matchup. Xavier took an early overtime lead but struggled to put the ball in the basket late, allowing Providence to tie the game with less than a minute to go. After two missed game winning attempts, this matchup headed to double overtime.
The game began to turn against Xavier in double overtime after they quickly fell down 79-75 with over three minutes remaining. Despite storming back to take the lead 81-79, the Musketeers found themselves trailing 88-85 with seven seconds to go in double overtime.
Following a missed free throw by Providence, Scruggs calmly made his way down the court to swoosh a three as time expired, leading to a triple overtime after review confirmed it was a three.
Unfortunately, tired legs for the Xavier defense finally showed through as the Musketeers fell to 17-10 in a 99-92 defeat at the hands of the 23-3 Friars. Xavier will look to bounce back on Saturday against Seton Hall.