For the first time in Dunkin Donuts Center history, a Top 10 matchup ensued in the venue located knee deep in the land of 'Friartown.' The No. 7 Xavier Musketeers, who rebounded off a loss to the Georgetown Hoyas with a win over the Seton Hall Pirates, traveled east to battle with reigning BIG EAST Player of the Week Ben Bentil, the incomparable Kris Dunn, and the No. 10 Providence Friars.
The Friars were coming off perhaps the biggest win of the year with their victory over the vaunted Villanova Wildcats in Philadelphia. The rare loss for 'Nova sent shockwaves throughout the conference as Providence once again proved that they will continue to be a major player going forward as the race for the BIG EAST title heats up. Dunn and Bentil are as good of a 1-2 punch in the country, maybe even the best when both are clicking, and when their role players are souped up, they are a viable, legitimate threat.
The tussle would commence in Rhode Island and for the first few minutes, both heavyweights traded blows. The Musketeers looked to be in prime position as the game wore on but the Friars wouldn't go down without a fight. Providence punched back, slugging Xavier again and again as time ticked by. Protect their home court the Friars would, to their last breath at the very least.
In the end, Xavier defeated the Providence Friars by the score of 75-68 in a top-flight BIG EAST matchup at The Dunk.
Ben Bentil's hot streak continued Tuesday night. After scoring 31 vs. Villanova, the sophomore forward followed it up with 25 points and a 7-for-9 mark from the free throw line. Bentil grabbed five boards but inefficiency ticked him tonight as he shot just 8-for-18 from the field after a pretty stellar showing against the Wildcats on Sunday afternoon.
Kris Dunn did it all as usual scoring 16, grabbing seven boards and dishing out six assists. He stayed out of foul trouble, picking up just two fouls and got seven steals in the game as well, showing off his tremendous versatility. Bench scoring may have did the Friars in on Tuesday. The Friar bench chipped in only 10 points while their opponents scored 25.
X was led by a tremendous effort by Jalen Reynolds. The Xavier big man picked up a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards, shooting 7-for-10 from the field. This was just Jalen's third double-double of the season and second in BIG EAST play, having scored 10 and hauled in 13 rebounds vs. St. John's back on January 6.Both James Farr and Trevon Bluiett made hearty contributions despite fouling out of the game in the second half. The sophomore from Indianapolis in Bluiett matched Jalen's 15 points with 15 of his own and shot a crisp 6-for-10 from the field. Bluiett added three rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes of action. Farr, meanwhile, kept up his good play with 11 points and eight rebounds. He would foul out after only 18 minutes of action and was plagued by four turnovers he'd commit on Tuesday night.
The play and perhaps the shot of the game came from JP Macura. Growing a reputation for being somewhat of an agitator, the Minnesota native certainly agitated the sellout crowd at The Dunk, jacking up a 3-pointer with 66 seconds to play and converted despite how ill-advised that shot was. The sophomore guard finished with 10 points on the evening.
Junior guard Myles Davis amassed 13 points for the Musketeers including two free throws near the end of the game to ice it.
Three things we learned from this matchup:
1. Xavier is Final Four-caliber
This has been a discussion point for the last few months, admittedly. But showing the juice that they did on Tuesday night on the road won me over. With the balanced scoring they have, the defensive efforts, the rebounding, the dossier of big men they trot out, the role players, and the like, the 2015-16 version of the Musketeers might be the first to reach the Final Four plateau they have come so close to getting to in year's past. From Bluiett to Reynolds, to Farr to Davis, with key role players like Edmond Sumner, JP Macura and Sean O'Mara, X is LOADED from top to bottom. It might be a lil' hasty to say in late January, but Xavier is March-ready, and ready enough to play in early April, too.
2. Sometimes, it can't just be The Ben Bentil/Kris Dunn Show (presented live in technicolor)
Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil combined for 41 points on Tuesday night... and it just was not enough. Xavier let Providence's 1-2 punch get theirs but held the rest of the Friars down. The biggest indication was the discrepancy in bench points where the Friars were outdone 25-10. Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright, usually good role players, shot just 3-for-20 on the night. While Bentil and Dunn are the go-to guys, Providence cannot afford for their best role players to have off nights like they did tonight. Otherwise, opportunities will be squandered.
3. Don't forget about Jalen
Much of the attention has been placed on James Farr of late. That's well deserved, to say the least. Farr has been excellent off the bench and is a prime contender to win the BIG EAST Sixth Man of the Year award. With that said, Jalen Reynolds reminded Providence and the conference that he's a force to be reckoned with too with his double-double performance against the Friars. If this performance sets him in motion again, look out.