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Cintas Center, Cincinnati, Ohio Attendance: 9,969
No. 21 Xavier looks to 'bottle up' recent effort, attack Butler
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No. 21 Xavier was coming off a last-second home loss to Providence and staring at a 17-point halftime deficit at Creighton on Saturday.
But that was before a huge second-half rally propelled the Musketeers (15-5, 5-4 Big East) to a comeback victory over the Bluejays, leading to a much better frame of mind for their home game against Butler (11-10, 4-6) on Wednesday in Cincinnati.
"I wish I could just bottle up that second half," Xavier coach Travis Steele said after the 74-64 win over Creighton, "and have it for the rest of the year."
The Musketeers rallied from a 36-19 halftime deficit by utilizing big men Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle against the smaller Bluejays to create plenty of mismatches.
"We have not shot the ball well the last four games," Steele said, "but Jack got us off to a tremendous start in the second half, and I thought it caught on like wildfire."
Nunge's two 3-pointers began a 19-0 run that put Xavier ahead. Creighton never regained the lead as the Musketeers extended that run to 29-2.
Steele also praised point guard Paul Scruggs, who had 18 points, eight assists, and most important to Steele, no turnovers.
"I thought he really controlled the tempo in the second half," Steele said. "I don't think we ever played too fast. We played at our own pace. We got the ball where we wanted to get the ball. We knew what the mismatch was."
Still, Steele cautioned, "We've got to be able to put 40 minutes together."
The same could be said for the resurgent Bulldogs, who are trying to avenge an 87-72 home loss to Xavier on Jan. 7. Butler has won two straight as it tries to climb back to respectability, but the Bulldogs squandered a 12-point, second-half lead against visiting Georgetown on Saturday before scoring the final four points to secure a 56-53 win.
Butler coach LaVall Jordan said that when Georgetown went small and began pressing to spark its comeback, "It shocked us for a second. It put us on our heels."
Butler committed 14 turnovers in the game. Jordan said some of the miscues against the press were because of aggressiveness and some were because of carelessness.
Still, Jordan likes what he is seeing.
"This group has the ability to be aggressive in transition," he said, "and that has been helping our pace the last few weeks, but we can't be reckless. We've just got to continue to grow at that."
Xavier is not known for its press, so that should not be a problem for Butler.
Bulldogs point guard Aaron Thompson, who is averaging 4.1 assists per game, credited improved defense for the team's recent success.
"If the shots aren't falling," said Thompson, who scored 12 points against the Hoyas, "we have to continue to defend and find a way to win."
Chuck Harris (10.6 points per game) is the only Butler player who averages double-figure scoring this season, but eight Bulldogs score at least six per game.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 31, 2022