No. 16 Xavier has stumbled down the stretch, with losses in three of its last four games overall and three consecutive contests on the road.
The Musketeers (20-8, 12-5 Big East) look to regain their footing on Friday night when they visit conference rival Seton Hall (16-12, 9-8) in Newark, N.J.
Xavier absorbed a substantial hit to its Big East title hopes on Tuesday, as it squandered a 13-point lead in the second half to drop a 64-63 decision to Villanova.
Turnovers told the tale in that game, much to the chagrin of Musketeers coach Sean Miller.
“Our turnovers in the second half, it overwhelmed us,” Miller said. “In the first 20 minutes I thought we did a lot of great things on offense. No. 1, we had only four turnovers. But in the second half, the 10 turnovers, the timeliness of the turnovers, the types of turnovers and … turnovers sometimes lead to fast-break points and Villanova’s not a team that’s trying to turn you over. They were very unforced.”
Souley Boum scored 17 points for the Musketeers, who have struggled in the absence of Zach Freemantle. The 6-foot-9 senior forward, who averages 15.2 points and a team-leading 8.1 rebounds, is nursing a foot injury and is expected to return in the postseason.
“Our lack of depth is something we have to play through and be smart with,” Miller said.
Jerome Hunter scored 14 points and Jack Nunge recorded his ninth double-double of the season after collecting 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Xavier will aim for a season sweep of Seton Hall on Friday. The Musketeers rode the 23-point, nine-rebound performance of Freemantle to a 73-70 win on Dec. 20.
Kadary Richmond, who had a team-high 17 points in that December game for Seton Hall, sustained a back injury early in the first half of Saturday’s 64-55 loss at UConn. He was forced to exit and did not return, playing just seven minutes. Richmond averages 10.1 points and team highs of 4.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He also shoots a robust 44.4 percent from 3-point range.
“I thought once we got our rhythm back in the second half, it kind of helped us, but I thought the first half, once Kadary went down, our rhythm, it just wasn’t there,” Seton Hall coach Shaheen Holloway said in his postgame radio interview.
While Richmond’s availability is up in the air, the Pirates could see the return of Dre Davis. He was available to play versus the Huskies after missing five straight games with a high ankle sprain, however Holloway elected to err on the side of caution.
Tyrese Samuel has made 11 of 19 shots from the floor over the last two games for the Pirates. He was named to the Big East Weekly Honor Roll after averaging 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds during that span. Samuel made 7 of 11 shots from the floor to finish with 14 points in the previous encounter with Xavier.
Al-Amir Dawes averages a team-best 12.7 points for Seton Hall. He finished with 10 in the last meeting with the Musketeers while making just 3 of 13 shots from the floor.
–Field Level Media