First Adam Kunkel, now Colby Jones. For the second time in Big East play, Xavier hit the last shot to get a win. Paul Scruggs found Jones wide open at the top of the key, and he drilled the shot to put Xavier ahead 74-73 with 0.1 seconds remaining. The Musketeers capped the game on an 8-0 run, with three points from Jones and Nate Johnson and two from Zach Freemantle.
For the Friars, it was their second consecutive loss. Both came in heartbreaking fashion. Against Creighton, Christian Bishop slammed one home in the final second to avoid overtime and give the Bluejays a victory. Today, Ed Cooley’s defense was unable to hold again, giving up a seven point lead over the final 1:13 and a two point lead on the final possession.
Both teams traded baskets for the first nine minutes. Providence led 18-14 with 11:24 to play in the first half, and David Duke had 11 points for the Friars.
Xavier then built a seven point lead over the next 5:22, shooting 7-9 from the field and forcing four turnovers on a 17-6 run. C.J. Wilcher hit consecutive three-pointers with under eight minutes to play in the half.
Providence owned the final 5:26 of the first half 10-4 to cut the deficit to one at the break. Duke stayed hot, adding five more points to finish the first half with 16. Xavier led 35-34 at halftime thanks to a Paul Scruggs jumper with 1:25 to play.
The second half brought more of the same for both teams. The Friars and Musketeers went back and forth, before Xavier extended the lead to five at 49-44 with 11:56 remaining. After scoring just two points in his previous two games, Nate Johnson had eight in the first eight minutes of the second half.
Providence got Nate Watson going to respond. The big man had eight points over the next 4:36 as the Friars went on a 12-4 run. This put PC ahead 56-53 with 7:19 to play.
The teams exchanged runs, and now it was Xavier’s chance to answer. The Musketeers built their lead back to four, leading 66-62 with 3:15 left after a Jason Carter layup.
Ed Cooley turned to his stars. Nate Watson’s layup with 3:02 to play cut the deficit to two. A.J. Reeves hit his third three-pointer of the day half a minute later to put the Friars up 67-66. David Duke and Noah Horchler added threes of their own, and Providence built it’s largest lead of the day at seven points with 1:13 remaining.
After giving up an 11-0 run, Travis Steele was able to work his magic for the Musketeers yet again. Nate Johnson’s three with 60 seconds left brought Xavier within four. Nine seconds later, freshman Alyn Breed traveled, and the Musketeers had the ball back. Zach Freemantle hit a shot, and the lead was down to two. Xavier then forced another turnover when Jimmy Nichols stepped out of bounds under the basket late in the shot clock. Down two with 16 seconds to play, Big East assist leader Paul Scruggs set up the wide open look for freshman Colby Jones, who buried the straightaway three and put Xavier ahead for good.
David Duke and Nate Watson had strong performances for Providence in the losing effort. Duke had 30 points on 11-18 shooting, including 7-9 from deep. He also led the Friars with 6 assists. Watson added 17 points of his own, and his four rebounds tied a career-high and gave the center his fifth career double-double. A.J. Reeves added nine points and four rebounds, and Jimmy Nichols had seven points, four rebounds, and a career-high five assists. Alyn Breed, starting in the place of the injured Jared Bynum, had two points, one assist, one steal, and two turnovers in 22 minutes of playing time.
After scoring just seven points combined last time out, Zach Freemantle and Nate Johnson led the way for Xavier. Freemantle had 17 points with eight rebounds, and Johnson added 14 points on 5-8 shooting and 4-6 from beyond the arc. It was a team effort for the Musketeers, with nine different scorers. Colby Jones had nine points, and Adam Kunkel and Paul Scruggs each had eight. Kunkel led the team with five assists, and Scruggs was right behind him with four. Xavier dominated in the paint, winning the rebounding battle 35-31 and scoring 40 points in the paint to Providence’s 21.
Providence stays on the road, traveling to play at Marquette on Tuesday. Xavier has some time off, not playing until next Saturday at Seton Hall.
Xavier is now above .500 in Big East play, with a 3-2 record in conference and a 10-2 record on the season. Providence fell to 7-5 and 3-3 against Big East opponents.