March Madness: Xavier enters Sweet 16

XU KOs Kennesaw State in buzzerbeater, pulverizes Pitt before taking on Texas

By Charlie Gstalder, Opinions & Editorials Editor

March is still mad for our Muskies, as Xavier’s men’s basketball team punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 with an 84-73 victory over the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt). 

This marks the team’s first Sweet 16 bid since 2017. 

While the Musketeers led Pitt — the alma mater of Head Coach Sean Miller — for the entirety of the game, it was not quite nothing but net for the team’s stars. 

Star point guard Souley Boum struggled to find his momentum early, missing his first six shots and remaining ice cold for the entirety of the first half. Boum began to hit his stride in the second half, nabbing a defensive rebound before getting fouled on a shot attempt, splitting his free throws and finally making it onto the board. 

There were a few more stumbles for Boum, who committed a turnover and went awry on a layup and three ball. But that all changed with 13 minutes left in the second half, when a three by Boum found the bottom of the net to put the Musketeers up by 16. From then on, business was Boum-ing, with Souley dropping in another 10 points on a variety of smart shots for a 14 piece on the night. 

Senior guard Adam Kunkel was feeling it from deep, burying five three-pointers in the first half alone. However, in a reverse of Boum’s outing, went scoreless for the second half. Kunkel rounded out his performance with four rebounds and three assists and picked the pockets of the Pitt Panthers to the tune of three steals. 

Jack Nunge, the Muskie’s seven-foot senior forward, was the team’s leading scorer, dropping in 18 points on a diet of silky layups and thunderous dunks. Nunge’s 18-point outburst left him tied with Pitt forward Blake Hinson for the game’s overall top scorer. 

Junior guard Colby Jones went off for a double double, with 10 points and 14 rebounds, and assisted on another seven baskets. 

Senior forward Jerome Hunter’s 14 points on the night ensured that the entirety of Xavier’s starting five hit double digits in scoring. Backup guard Desmond Claude put up another 11 points off the bench, meaning all but one of Xavier’s active players broke the double digit barrier.

The diversity of scoring could be due in part to Xavier’s tremendously unselfish play, with the Musketeers entering the game with the nation’s highest assist average at 19.2 per game. The shift to assists had surprised some, given Miller’s previous team’s slow and deliberative style of play. Whatever the reason, the Musketeer’s speed on the court remained unmatched and undoubtedly contributed a great deal to Sunday’s win.

In keeping with the Big East’s reputation for physicality, Xavier got into some foul trouble, eventually leading to Nunge fouling out with just over three minutes left in the game. Four other Muskies picked up three fouls each, with five occurring in just the last two minutes of play. Despite the stoppage of play, Xavier was able to convert on their attempts at the line and did not allow Pitt to close the lead. 

Xavier is set to play the two-seeded Texas on Friday. The game will be aired in the primetime slot on CBS, but real fans will be watching from the patio at Dana Gardens.