Going into the game, Xavier knew it had to get a strong performance from Trevon Bluiett, who was averaging 25.5 points a game and seven rebounds. The Musketeers were also well aware that they were going to have their hands full with Second Team Preseason All-American Ethan Happ who is one of the best big men in the country.
The Musketeers came out of the gates strong. In fact, so strong that Tyrique Jones whipped the opening tip out of bounds. At the start of the first half, the Musketeers played Chris Mack basketball: They found open lanes and were aggressive in driving hard into the paint.
After its first dozen points, Xavier got itself into a tug-of-war match with the Badgers, who seemed to almost trade buckets with them in a very seesaw-like first half.
The Musketeers regained momentum at the 7.5 minute mark when Kaiser Gates, who can be a prolific shooter if he’s consistent enough, buried two threes on consecutive possessions. The Badgers answered, engineering their own 9-0 run in the last three minutes of the first half to bring the score even at 34 apiece.
Bluiett, who is known to light up the stat sheet, was relatively quiet in the first half only scoring four points in the first half. He did so without even converting a single field goal. The Musketeers shot a mere 16 percent from three, which is uncharacteristically low for a team with a plethora of long-range shooters.
In the second half, the Musketeers forced the issue at the start with J.P. Macura leading the charge. Macura scored the first three baskets for Xavier.
Bluiett’s first field goal didn’t even come until 15.5 minutes to go in the second half, but from that point on, he was just heating up. He started to catch fire, as he finally got his smooth and seemingly effortless stroke going.
Gates got into foul trouble, picking up four with 7.5 minutes to go. It didn’t help the Musketeers, who had to grind it out on the road in front of a raucous Kohl Center crowd. This forced Mack to put in Naji Marshall, a young freshman who has plenty of talent and potential. Marshall didn’t look like himself, almost bewildered at times, but it’s safe to chock that down to anxiousness.
The game was a gridlocked dogfight in a contest that featured six ties and 10 lead changes. Any Xavier fan would have been on the edge of their seats for this nail-biter.
The Musketeers had one distinct advantage over the Badgers: Experience. It certainly showed tonight.
With just two minutes to go in the game, Bluiett took over and showed that he was a senior, knocking down triples in back-to-back possessions. From that point on, the game was iced and Xavier pulled away with the 10-point victory, enacting its sweet revenge over Wisconsin.
Trevon Bluiett: 25 points, 9 rebounds, with 21 of those points in the 2nd half
J.P. Macura: 20 points, 8 rebounds
Tyrique Jones: 11 points, 6 rebounds
Kaiser Gates: 11 points, 7 rebounds
Ethan Happ: 21 points, 4 rebounds
Xavier proved that it can compete against a top-tier team
The Musketeers sailed by two easy victories against Morehead State and Rider, but they got their first taste of what a good team looks like tonight. They answered the call.
Trevon Bluiett is a legit National Player of the Year contender
He’s on the watch list, but after a game like this, he is making a strong early case to be in the conversation for the best player in college basketball. This argument was going to the wayside after his underwhelming first half, but he really torched the Badgers in the second half. A few more performances like this in Big East play, and Xavier may irrefutably have one of the nation’s top players.
It wasn’t a pretty victory, but a win is a win
This game wasn’t exactly as fluid as one would hope. But nonetheless, the Musketeers clawed their way to move their overall record to 3-0. Bright side is, they outrebounded Wisconsin 37-28. Bad news is, Xavier relied too heavily on its starters and didn’t get enough production from their bench.