Wednesday night was a tale of two teams at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Providence entered the game energized by the hopes of sneaking onto this year’s weak NCAA Tournament bubble, while Xavier came in running on fumes and desperately trying to maintain the status quo. Trevon Bluiett’s status was questionable coming into tonight thanks to a recent ankle sprain, but that question was quickly answered when Xavier’s leading scorer was seen observing warm ups in a knee-high walking boot. That’s 22% (447 points) of the Musketeers’ offense sitting out. That hurts when they’re at full strength. Add in the absence of star guard Edmond Sumner, and you’re looking at a team searching for its identity.
Chris Mack’s group got off to a solid start in the first ten minutes compared to the Friars who seemed absolutely dumbfounded by Mack’s 1-3-1 defense. Without their two stars, the Musketeers had to kick it up a notch on defense, and they certainly did that from the tip. Late in the half, the Friars were able to muster up a few takeaways and turn them into some transition points. Cooley’s bunch held Xavier scoreless for the final two minutes and found themselves down two at the half.
Despite the two point difference, Xavier dominated the glass in the opening frame. Two early fouls from Rodney Bullock and Kalif Young allowed Mack to take advantage of PC’s missing length. Led by Rashid Gaston, the Musketeers bullied Providence out of loose balls and grabbed offensive boards left and right. Gaston would ultimately finish with 19 points and 14 rebounds to lead Xavier. But, just like they did Saturday against Butler, PC was finding ways to make it ugly and keep it close.
The second half started with the Friars managing to find some second chance points while continuing to bring the intensity on the defensive side of the ball. This along with some lights out shooting from beyond the arch quickly gave Providence the lead. Four Xavier turnovers in a four minute span to go along with an 10-0 PC run pushed the Friar lead to 15 with six minutes remaining. The Musketeers would hang around as much as they could, but Cooley’s squad refused to take their foot off the gas. Providence would lead from the 16:43 mark on in this one. Believe it or not, it’s tough to play without your two best players. Xavier found this out the hard way tonight.
Kyron Cartwright led the charge for Ed Cooley tonight, finishing with 17 points, 7 boards, and 5 assists. Rodney Bullock chipped in a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Jalen Lindsey finished with 13. Providence shot lights out in the second half tonight. Before two errant missed shots at the end of the game, the Friars were shooting a red-hot 67% from the field. Not too shabby.
The shorthanded Musketeers were still able to dominate the glass, out-rebounding the Friars 44-29. JP Macura (17 points) and Gaston didn’t have much help however, as the Xavier offense was extremely reliant on those two tonight, which was no surprise with the late scratch to Bluiett. Mack’s shorthanded team struggled against Providence’s intense defense, as they committed 17 turnovers, which turned into 18 PC points. Their frustration was evident, as this game got extremely chippy down the stretch. Both teams were able to avoid any technical fouls. Regardless of tonight’s outcome, Xavier fans will have to hope for Bluiett’s return in the near future.
This win makes things more interesting for the Friars, as they now sit at 16-11. Back to back wins against Butler and Xavier have pushed Providence closer to (or maybe on to?) the bubble. They’ll need to finish the conference schedule strong if they want any chance at getting into the big dance.
The Friars’ tough road continues as they travel to Creighton next Wednesday while Xavier heads to Milwaukee to face Marquette this Saturday.