CINCINNATI (AP)Dwon Odom scored a career-high 19 points and Nate Johnson added 17 to lift No. 22 Xavier over Marquette 80-71 on Saturday in their Big East Conference opener.
Jack Nunge had 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for Xavier (11-1, 1-0 Big East), which has won seven straight. Colby Jones added 11 points for the Musketeers.
”We’re 1-0. Got our first Big East win. We’re a little banged up,” Xavier head coach Travis Steele said. ”But you have to be mentally tough at this time of year.”
Marquette (8-4, 0-1 Big East) was led by Greg Elliott’s 18 points and Justin Lewis’ 15.
Xavier scored 44 points in the paint, and a lot of that offense was created by Odom’s drives.
”I kind of figured out in the first half that I could get in the lane and make some plays,” said Odom, who also had three steals and an assist.
”I thought Odom was phenomenal. He was a real difference maker in the game,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. ”Odom is a great player in the paint. He was in there way too much.”
After going 8 for 33 from 3-point range in a loss to UCLA, the Golden Eagles went 4 of 7 from behind the arc to start Saturday’s game.
It was a game of runs for both teams. Marquette went on a 9-0 run to build an eight-point lead in the first half. But when the Golden Eagles cooled off from long range, Xavier took over.
”They were the harder playing team in the first half,” Steele said. ”I wasn’t happy with our defensive intensity in the first half. I thought our guys did a really nice job making adjustments at halftime.”
Odom sparked a run with six straight points, including a steal and dunk, to put the Musketeers ahead 31-30. Odom had tied his season-high of 10 points by halftime.
Xavier began the second half outscoring Marquette 12-4 to build a 50-40 lead.
”At about the 12-minute mark, we locked in defensively. We felt defense could win the game,” Nunge said.
And Marquette had difficulty keeping Odom out of the lane. The sophomore guard made his first six shots and finished 8 of 9 from the field.
”If he sees light at all, he’s going to take it,” Steele said. ”He got anywhere that he wanted tonight. He’s so strong and athletic. If you want to play off Dwon, it just helps him.”
After going 17 of 18 from the free-throw line in a win over Morehead State on Wednesday, Xavier struggled on Saturday, making 21 of 35 to help keep Marquette in the game.
”We have to be a lot better finishing possessions at the free-throw line,” Steele said.
The Musketeers led by as many as 10 points in the second half but the Golden Eagles were within one point after an Elliott 3-pointer with three minutes left. But Nunge’s dunk off a lob from Johnson helped Xavier seal the victory in the closing minute.
”We made a few too many mistakes to win a game like this against Xavier on their home floor. It stings a little bit in that locker room,” Smart said.
Marquette’s full-court pressure was expected to be an issue for Xavier, which had averaged nearly 15 turnovers through 11 games. But the Musketeers finished with only eight turnovers, six in the first half.
”I thought they did a good job against the press,” Smart said. ”Foul trouble was part of the reason. They had a good attack against it. Their guys were really sure with the ball.”
Marquette: All of the Golden Eagles’ losses this season have come against ranked opponents – St. Bonaventure, Wisconsin, UCLA and now Xavier. They host No. 20 UConn on Tuesday.
Xavier: Coach Travis Steele said this week that every Musketeers player and staff member is fully vaccinated. The Big East Conference’s policy this season is that teams must forfeit if they have an insufficient number of players, including if it’s because of a positive COVID-19 test. Seton Hall and DePaul forfeited games this week.
Marquette: Hosts No. 20 UConn on Tuesday.
Xavier: Plays at No. 9 Villanova on Tuesday.
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