A heartwarming moment took place before the last regular season game of the year for the Musketeers as they honored their seniors at halfcourt on Senior Night. These players included walk-on Matt Singleton, Kerem Kanter, Sean O’Mara, J.P. Macura, and Trevon Bluiett, who was greeted as any second all-time leading scorer in program history would be—with a standing ovation.
Much was at stake for Xavier in this matchup, as a win would guarantee at least a share of the Big East Conference regular-season title. Fate was in their hands against the Providence Friars, the only other in-conference foe the Musketeers lost to this season besides Villanova.
Bluiett opened his last home game at Cintas with a bang as he sliced through the lane for an easy lay-in to kick off the scoring. He also knocked down a triple off a screen, a set play that he is extremely adept at. O’Mara added two free throws and Xavier was off to a slight 7-2 advantage by the first media timeout. Right before the break, however, Alpha Diallo bowled over Macura near the basket as he slammed against the hardwood with a resounding thud—even one I could hear from the 200s section. After Macura got back to his feet he seemed to exchange words with Diallo but an official interjected the scuffle. Both were given technical fouls.
Kerem Kanter entered the game and made his presence known early first with an off-hand righty finish and then a low post shot before he made a short jumper on the next possession. Ed Cooley took his second timeout for the Friars in less than two minutes at the 12:07 mark as the Musketeers increased their lead to 19-8. Going into the timeout, Xavier was on a 6-0 run.
Providence responded right back answering with their own 7-0 run over about a minute and thirty seconds going 3-3 from the field in that stretch of time. Turnovers continued to comes in waves to the Providence offense and the Friars coughed up the ball a total of 11 times in the first half.
Xavier was still ahead by the under 8-minute timeout with a 26-17 lead. At the 4:06 mark, the Musketeers were ahead 32-23 and the Friars were on their heels making 7 of 9 field goals before the stoppage in play. The Friars starting to catch a hot hand from deep late in the half after Isaiah Jackson and Maliek White each drilled a three-pointer. Those shots combined with a Makai Ashton-Langford and-one brought the Friars within five points of the lead.
The Friars were highly productive in the first half shooting a stellar 65 percent as a team and only attempting 23 shots. After Ashton-Langford beat Kaiser Gates with an up-and-under maneuver at the buzzer, the Friars trailed by just three points at halftime.
The type of half that Providence had beared a striking resemblance to the teams’ last matchup at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in January. Oddly enough, there was not a single Friars’ player to score in double-digits in the first half. The team’s leading scorer at halftime was a tie between Ashton-Langford and Kyron Cartwright, who had eight points apiece.
Xavier shot 42 percent as a team and just 20 percent from long range. It was kept in the game largely because of a 10-11 effort from the free throw line. Despite the spotty offensive showing in the first half, the Musketeers held a 40-37 lead. Xavier’s leading scorers at the half was also a tie, between Quentin Goodin and Bluiett, who each had 11 points. They were the only two Musketeers to score in double-digits at the break. The 11 points scored by Bluiett in the first half were good enough to elevate him and Macura to become the highest-scoring duo in Xavier history.
The Musketeers offense surged in the opening minutes of the second half after creating opportunities from turnovers. Their 10-0 run was capped off after Bluiett splashed a three and Goodin converted an and one. O’Mara came through with another big jam to bring the Xavier lead back up to 11 points at the first timeout of the half.
“We knew what tonight meant,” O’Mara said after the game. “It’s exciting. It’s my last time at Cintas, my last time playing on this court with my teammates. It was nice to be able to go do that and I think we all came out aggressively.”
After he was tagged with his fourth personal foul, Cartwright went to the bench with more than 15 minutes left in the game. At the time of his departure from the floor, he was the Friars leading scorer. The foul trouble continued nearly three minutes later as another Providence starter, Rodney Bullock, was also forced to come out of the game after picking up his fourth personal foul.
At the under-12 minute timeout, Xavier successfully made 4 out of 5 shots and commanded a 59-47 lead. At the point of the timeout, the Musketeers boosted their shooting percentage to 51 percent overall. Xavier took a ten point lead moving into the under 8-minute stoppage just as the Friars were in the midst of a 3:03 scoring drought.
Providence went down a starter at the 4:42 mark when Bullock committed his fifth and final foul on an offensive possession. Xavier, in the meantime, was still ahead 73-67 with 2:44 left after a three-pointer from White.
With a little over a minute to play, J.P. Macura exited the floor for the last time at Cintas and the crowd roared in salute to his service. A pair of free throws virtually iced the victory for the Musketeers as they were up 79-69 with exactly one minute in the game. Moments later and very fittingly, Bluiett drove down the lane and finished at the rim with a two-handed dunk, which is a facet of his game that is stored deep in his scoring arsenal.
He also got a loud exit as he moved towards the sideline to take a seat, victory in hand, but not before he was greeted by Chris Mack whom he embraced before meeting the rest of his teammates on the bench.
The victory was a monumental one for the Xavier basketball program that clinched at least a share of the Big East Conference regular-season title. The Musketeers will now play for sole possession of the Big East on Saturday against DePaul.
“It’s hard to do what our team just did,” Mack said. “We still want to finish the job. We want to be better and we’re going to need to be.”
Bluiett: 23 points, 6 rebounds
Goodin: 18 points, 4 rebounds
O’Mara: 10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists
Kanter: 10 points
Diallo: 13 points
Ashton-Langford: 11 points
Cartwright: 10 points, 5 assists
Victory is sweet, especially when you win the Big East for the first time. More history can be made on Saturday because if the Musketeers win, they will be the first team since the inception of the re-envisioned Big East to win other than Villanova.
And what a spectacular way for Trevon Bluiett to end his career at Cintas Center. He did what he does best, scoring the basketball. Two other seniors, O’Mara and Kanter also had fitting ends at Cintas each collected double-digit points.
This game featured a variety of oddities. One of which was that a total of 111 shots between the two teams were taken. Three players fouled out: Bullock, Cartwright and Macura. Both teams scored a bunch of points in the paint. Xavier had 42 points from close, Providence had 38. Both teams were also nearly dead even in assists, Xavier had 15 while Providence had 14. The Musketeers took 26 free throws and made 23 of them. Perhaps, this was a big difference maker in this matchup.
The best part of it all? The Musketeers took care of business at the right time. Now their destiny is completely in their hands as the outright claim of the Big East regular-season championship comes down to a favorable matchup on Saturday against DePaul.
Sean O’Mara said it best, “At the beginning of the year, we didn’t put up Big East co-champions.” That should give the Musketeers all the motivation they need.