Against the best competition that they had faced so far this season, the Musketeers’ worst traits came out for much of the game. Passes were just as likely to wind up in the Gators’ hands as they were to make it to a Musketeer while the ball would stop one pass shy of the open man. It was ugly for a team with the expectations that Xavier had entering the season.
Despite playing poorly for much of the game, the Musketeers gave fans optimism that Team 98 will reach its potential. After trailing much by double digits for much of the second half, a late 12-2 run allowed the Musketeers to draw within three. While a game-tying three from junior guard Paul Scruggs wound up bouncing off the rim in the final seconds, Xavier showed played like a team that deserved the preseason accolades that it received.
While much of the first half was tightly contested, Florida took the lead for good with about five minutes to go in the opening period and extended that lead to 10 by halftime. The Musketeers were able to whittle the lead down to 6 with about ten minutes to go but the Gators were able to re-extend their lead to 13 before Xavier made its late run.
After about 35 minutes of poor ball movement and constant turnovers, Xavier settled down and began dishing the ball as sharply as the best teams of the Chris Mack era. While senior guard Quentin Goodin has struggled shooting all season (25% from three entering the game), the ball found him for a couple of open looks that he drained to cut into the Gator lead. A strong off-ball screen by senior Tyrique Jones led to Scruggs getting a wide-open look to tie in the final ten seconds but the shot rimmed out and a couple of free throws on the other end put the game away.
Despite his miss, Scruggs was the star of the game with 24 points for the Musketeers. Jones added 13 while Goodin added 11. Scruggs and Goodin combined to go 5-11 from deep, while the rest of the team went 0-5. Jones grabbed seven boards to lead the team, while r-Jr. forward Jason Carter and junior forward Naji Marshall led the team with four assists apiece.
Florida had four players wind up in double-digits. Sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson and sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard tied for the lead with 15 points apiece. Senior forward Kerry Blackshear, Jr. recorded 14 points to go with ten rebounds and two blocks. Sophomore guard Noah Locke recorded 13 points and was a disruptive force on the defensive end recording four steals.
Xavier will return to action Saturday, Nov. 30 against Lipscomb. Freshman guard Kyky is expected to make his Musketeer debut after going through warm-ups before the Florida game. The game tips at noon and will be televised on FSN.