The Xavier Musketeers began the season as one of the favorites in the Big East and a team that could make a deep run into March. Jacksonville, on the other hand, as a member of the ASUN conference, are hoping to build off last year’s disappointing 10-17 season. The Dolphins only return one player from last year who averaged in double figures in guard Tyreese Davis. Davis will have his hands full tonight as the Musketeers have one of the top backcourts in the nation, lead by veteran 3-year starter Quentin Gooden and an experienced running mate in Paul Scruggs. Xavier has won every home opener in the history of the Cintas Center and that streak looks to continue.
The Muskies offense struggled in the first half but their defense was on point for most of it. The game started off well as Xavier took the ball away from the Dolphins on their first three possessions. Xavier converted the first points of the season on a jump hook from Tyrique Jones which gave the Muskies an early lead they would never relinquish. The only early chink in the Xavier armor was a 1-5 start from the free-throw line.
Xavier’s defense continued to suffocate the Jacksonville offense for the rest of the first half as the Muskies slowly and steadily extended their lead. Bryce Moore hit a big 3-pointer from the wing to give his squad their widest margin of the first half, 41-22 with 42 seconds to go. A Naji Marshall turn-around with 3 seconds left in the half extended the Xavier lead to 43-22.
The first half is what we expected from this year’s edition of the Musketeers, which is a great defense and more than a few scoring options. Paul Scruggs and Tyrique Jones led the Muskies offensively, scoring 12 and 10 points respectively.
The second half started out with a bang as Naji Marshall, just a few seconds in, had a slam dunk. That was quickly followed by a Goodin 3-pointer to extend the Xavier lead. Tyrique Jones took a charge and followed that up on the offensive end with a monstrous dunk, putting the Muskie lead to 52-25 at the 15-minute mark.
The Dolphins made a quick run to cut it to an 18-point deficit with 9:30 left in the game behind a 3-pointer by the Dolphins’ Mo Arnold. Naji Marshall ended that short-lived run with an acrobatic spinning layup.
Jacksonville shaved the Xavier lead to 64-47 on a 3-pointer by guard Aamahne Santos with 4:29 to go in the game. The preceding 12 minutes the Muskies had only managed to muster up ten points as the offense looked like it had become bored. Newcomer Bryce Moore hit a shot and caused a turnover with 3:31 left. Moore, a Graduate transfer from Western Michigan, had an excellent game and looks to play a big part in the Xavier rotation this is any indication.
The final score of the game, 76-57, does not indicate how dominant Xavier was. The Muskies will of course need to shoot the ball better from the 3-point and free throw lines but that will come. The most impressive thing was the defensive intensity. As long as this team has that, they have a very good chance to make a deep run come March.
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