No. 9 Xavier, Marshall square off after thrilling wins
CINCINNATI — The ninth-ranked Xavier Musketeers and the Marshall Thundering Herd are coming off exhilarating but taxing victories on Saturday, leaving barely two days to recoup before facing each other on Tuesday night at Cintas Center.
The Musketeers rallied from a 22-point, second-half deficit to defeat East Tennessee State 68-66, while the Thundering Herd outlasted Ohio 99-96 in overtime.
“We were in a war on Saturday,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said, “and we will find ourselves in another war (Tuesday) night.”
Xavier (10-1), which has won five consecutive games, had most of last week off for semester exams. Then the Musketeers were pounced on early by East Tennessee State before staging the largest comeback in Cintas Center history, capped by Trevon Bluiett’s game-winner with seven seconds left.
“We have to learn from it,” Mack said. “Every game isn’t going to be a 15-nothing run to start the game. We have to gut some out.”
Marshall’s duo of guard Jon Elmore and forward Ajdin Penava, both juniors, produced memorable stat-lines in the win over Ohio. Elmore had only the fifth triple-double in program history with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while Penava scored 33 points and added 15 rebounds, nine blocks and three steals.
“I don’t know in the history of Marshall that I’ve ever seen a stat line like that,” Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni said, according to the Herald-Dispatch.
Marshall (8-3) has won four consecutive games and leads the all-time series 13-11. The teams have played only twice since 1958. Xavier has won the last two meetings, including the most recent one, 69-46 at Cintas Center on Dec. 30, 2004.
Mack was impressed by what he saw on film from the Thundering Herd.
“I love the way they play offense,” he said. “Elmore is a special player. He’s as adept shooting threes as he is getting to the foul line. He’s surrounded by some really skilled personnel.”
Up until Saturday’s slugfest with East Tennessee State, the Musketeers’ offense had been rolling.
Xavier still ranks fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com. The Musketeers lead the Big East Conference while ranking third nationally in field-goal percentage.
Xavier reached the Elite Eight last year and is ranked in the top 10 in both major polls for the third straight season. However, the Musketeers could have some depth concerns on Tuesday.
J.P. Macura, the team’s second-leading scorer and emotional leader, left the Saturday game with an apparent concussion. Kaiser Gates also exited injured. Reserve freshman guards Paul Scruggs and Elias Harden didn’t play Saturday for disciplinary reasons.
“The freshmen practiced on Monday, the other two guys did not,” Mack said. “We will see what happens over the past 24 hours.”
Xavier has won 38 consecutive nonconference home games at Cintas Center dating to the 2012-13 season. The Musketeers’ only loss this season was to undefeated and third-ranked Arizona State. Marshall is unranked but has the 10th-best scoring offense in the country, averaging 90.2 points.
“We have a lot of respect for Marshall,” Mack said. “They do a great job of spacing the floor and playing with space. They are difficult to prepare for. It’s a big challenge.”