No. 18 Xavier faces UConn in key early Big East game

NCAA

After having its seven-game winning streak snapped, No. 18 Xavier looks for a complete effort Tuesday night when the Musketeers host UConn in a Big East game in Cincinnati.

Projected with Villanova among the top three teams in the league, Xavier and UConn both are 1-1 in conference play and are anxious to start off among the leaders rather than playing catch-up.

Against Villanova last week, Xavier (11-2, 1-1) was undone by a poor second half in a 71-58 defeat. After the intermission, the Musketeers misfired on all 14 of their 3-point attempts as they was being outscored by 21 points.

Xavier had held a 38-30 advantage after making 6 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half.

“I thought it was a tale of two halves for us,” Musketeers coach Travis Steele said. “The first half shows we can beat anybody in our league. Second half shows we can lose to anybody in our league.”

In that second half, Xavier committed eight turnovers against eight made field goals. The eight-point lead evaporated quickly, and Steele’s team was outscored in the final four minutes, 22-7.

“You just move on to the next one. We’re two games in,” he said. “It’s a 20-game league schedule, so it’s a marathon, you gotta be able to navigate it. You gotta be able to move on to the next one. And we gotta be better.

“We gotta be more physical. That’s the biggest thing I took away from this one. We gotta be more physical. We gotta take care of the ball and we gotta set the right tone coming out of the half.”

Dwon Odom led Xavier in scoring for the second straight game, finishing with 13 against the Wildcats. He has made 14 of 17 shots from the floor in the last two games.

Nate Johnson added 12 points against Villanova, although just one came in the second half.

Johnson averages 13.2 points, leading four Musketeers in double figures. Last February, he had 14 points and six rebounds in an 80-72 loss to UConn in Cincinnati. Zach Freemantle erupted for a career-high 30 points and 15 boards in that game.

After averaging 16.1 points to lead Xavier in scoring last season, Freemantle started this season coming off a foot injury that kept him out of action until the beginning of December. He has gradually increased his playing time and played a season-high 29 minutes against Villanova, scoring all six of his points in the first half.

UConn (10-3, 1-1) is led by R.J. Cole, who pumped in 20 during UConn’s 78-70 win over Marquette last Tuesday, boosting his team-leading scoring average to 16.3. He eclipsed the 2,000-point plateau in his career in that contest, while backcourt mate Tyrese Martin surpassed 1,000 when he recorded a career-high 25 against the Golden Eagles.

“Coach (Dan Hurley) emphasized before the game that road conference games count as one-and-a-half, so we just went with that mindset,” Martin said, per the school newspaper The Daily Campus.

Martin was playing in his second game since returning from a wrist injury.

Adama Sanogo chipped in six points in 13 minutes in his first action following a four-game absence due to an abdominal strain. Sanogo, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound center from Mali, is a fixture in the paint on both ends of the court. His presence in the paint permits UConn to run a more complete offense.

“When we’re fully loaded, we have the potential to be a monster,” Hurley said.

In last season’s win at Xavier, Cole came off the bench and scored a season-high 24 points for the Huskies.

–Field Level Media

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