Xavier Falls Just Short Vs Houston 66-60
When the 2023-24 Xavier Men's Basketball Schedule was released, this was one of the games you circled on the Xavier schedule. This wasn't exactly a pretty basketball game by any means, but it did still have the exciting moments Xavier fans were looking for.
Houston came into this game ranked 6th overall in the AP Poll but 1st overall on KenPom, This was also the Cougars first road game of the season so they were coming into a hostile environment.
At first, the Cougars were not phased at all by the crowd. LJ Cryer started the game hitting his first three shots, all from three-point area helping his team get off to a 16-4 lead. Coming off of the first media timeout. Xavier battled back and fought themselves back into the game, although not scoring a ton, holding Houston scoreless for five minutes.
"The first four minutes of the game, and the first four minutes of the second half the score is 22-6." said Head Coach Sean Miller. "I don't know if that's necessarily our problem, Houston does that to a lot of teams. It's part of their identity. We talked about that before the game, we talked about that at half time. But it was those two segments that overwhelmed our ability to win."
The Musketeers kept on fighting, and got a big surge from Quincy Olivari who made three big threes to help Xavier get their first lead of the game. But after that, LJ Cryer hit another three giving Houston the lead back, but then the game turned into a rock fight with both teams fighting hard defensively, but couldn't consistently get offense going. Houston took a 36-31 lead going into the half.
"I think the biggest message was when we finally stepped into the game and we made the first big run that we can compete as long as we continue to play hard, play as a team box out and rebound, we can compete with the best of them," Olivari said in the post game press conference. "Once we got that confidence it was just continuing to uplift each other, play together as a team, play without fouling. Box out and limit our turnovers and once we realized we can compete with them it was just making sure we continue to uplift each other."
Abou Ousmane got the first bucket of the second half for Xavier cutting the deficit to three, but Houston made the second of their big runs with Cryer and Jamal Shead spear heading the Cougars run pushing the lead to 13 before Xavier called a timeout with 16:10 remaining.
Once this timeout was over, the foul fest began. After Sasa Ciani's jumper brought the score to 46-36 with 14:46 remaining, Xavier started forcing contact with Houston and getting themselves to the free-throw line. On the contrary Houston was doing the exact same thing.
Gytis Nemeiksa made 2 layups that sandwiched free-throws from Dailyn Swain over four minutes of game play. In that time the Cougars were relying strictly on free throws for points as the Xavier defense held them to nearly nine minutes without a field goal. With 6:57 to go in the game Desmond Claude hit two free-throws to give Xavier the 52-51 lead, just their second lead of the game. With Xavier's defensive efforts you had to feel good about what the team was doing to this point.
But, once again, Houston battled back and took the lead, mostly on free throws with a few more Cryer baskets made in the game. The Baylor transfer ended the game with 23 points being the main contributor to the Cougar offense.
Xavier's offense got in a rut at the worst time, not being able to execute and also forcing unnecessary turnovers, putting their back against the wall going into the final media timeout. Houston led 55-52 at this point in the game.
With 1:56 remaining it looked like Xavier was running out of chances, but Quincy Olivari hit two more free-throws then with 35 seconds left in the game hit a three to make the score 61-57 Houston. Olivari hit four threes tonight, and they were the only four made threes of the evening for Xavier.
But from there Houston was able to close the game out leading to the 66-60 victory.
An 0-2 week for the Musketeers but two very different feelings coming out of both games. Xavier is now on a few day break before getting a visit on Tuesday from the Delaware Blue Hens. Delaware is currently on a two-game losing streak as well but has a Saturday afternoon matchup vs Ohio University today at 2 PM EST.
The Xavier vs Delaware game will be broadcast on FS1 and is the final game before the 2023 Crosstown Shootout.