No. 13 Xavier shows fight, road toughness in win over UConn

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Sean Miller watched his team inside a silent Gampel Pavilion at 10:30 Wednesday morning. He was ready to deliver a message.

“We did well, but the sign of a great team is what you can do away from home,” Miller said at the end of his team’s shootout. “Now’s your chance to do it. We didn’t come here to play UConn. We came here to fight like hell for a win.”

That’s exactly what the No. 13 Musketeers did, going on a 9-0 run to open the game and holding off a furious comeback by the No. 19 Huskies in a stupid atmosphere, winning 82-79. It marked a fitting end to Xavier’s 9-1 first half in Big East play, as the Musketeers answered the big question surrounding this team: Can they do it on the road?

“I really felt like it was our best overall performance of the season,” Miller said after the win. “Defensively, I thought the first half was as good as we’ve played all season.”

The Musketeers, who came in ranked 96th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, shut down UConn in the opening minutes by letting Andre Jackson shoot from beyond the arc and challenging the Huskies to shoot from downtown the city. It worked, as Connecticut shot just 32 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, including 1-for-13 from 3-point range.

“That was the mentality of our group in this game, set the tone and stick together,” Souley Boum said after the win.

That mindset is the change Miller has brought back to Xavier basketball, a change Boum describes as “never having a moment where we’re complacent.”

Highlights: Souley Boum shows his power against UConn

Highlights: Souley Boum shows his power against UConn

Xavier’s Souley Boum scored 21 points in an 82-79 win over the No. 19 UConn Huskies.

The UTEP transfer has embodied that attitude and more for the 16-4 Musketeers. Boum has answered Xavier’s preseason point guard questions emphatically, ranking in the top five in the Big East in both scoring (17 PPG) and assists (5.1 APG). He has been as impactful as any transfer in college basketball and is a legitimate candidate for Big East player of the year.

“He’s an incredibly accurate shooter,” Miller added of Boum. “Whether it’s deep 3s or 3s off the dribble, when he’s on, he carries us. I really didn’t think Souley had his best game, but this shot with him not playing well, it’s hard to say 21 points at UConn isn’t a good night”.

In his final performance as the Musketeers’ stabilizing presence, Boum went 5-for-5 from beyond the arc and finished with 21 points.

“I’m the point guard on this team and I have to be that guy on this team,” Boum said. “I don’t have time to be disappointed, and I was talking to our guys to prepare them. We did that to start the game, and then it’s about weathering the storm.”

UConn unleashed a blizzard in the second half, cutting a 17-point deficit to one with 10:59 left, and again with 4:52 to play before a final push at 2: 40 on the clock.

Huskies sophomore superstar Jordan Hawkins had 26 points, going 8-for-12 in the final 20 minutes. It was a welcome sight for an offense that struggled at halftime. With Tristen Newton matching his season high with 23 points to go with four assists, the overall positive for the Huskies is that Hawkins got some help, and the backcourt played as hard as it has in weeks, despite be too little too late.

“Defensively, we were very soft. We completely lost our way, and I’ve got to fix that,” Dan Hurley said after Connecticut’s sixth loss in eight games following a 14-0 start to the season.

“It’s rare that I have to move away from man defense almost completely because their guards were going wherever they wanted on the court. The whole perimeter was so bad defensively. If we can’t fix our man defense, teams that they are exclusively the playing area is not doing well.”

The Musketeers shot 53% from the floor and 50% from beyond the arc.

For UConn, Wednesday marked another night of disappointment as the Huskies find themselves 5-6 in the Big East and out of the regular season title race. UConn is still considered an NCAA Tournament lock as a projected 5-seed in Mike DeCourcy’s latest forecast, but the Huskies need to be a different team next week. They have a week off before a pair of matchups against Big East basement dwellers DePaul and Georgetown.

As for Xavier, the vision of a regular season conference crown is real. This program, which won just eight Big East games last season, has turned around 180 degrees since Miller returned to the sidelines. A win of this caliber on the road, and with reserves Jerome Hunter and Desmond Claude adding quality depth to the rotation, makes this Musketeers team evolve as the season heats up.

“That’s what tonight really gives our group, the belief that we can win anywhere,” Miller said. “It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to go through it. When you go through it and come out victorious, you say, ‘OK, we can do it’.”

“There are people out there saying, ‘Can they win on the road?’ and all this and all that,” Boum added. “We’re just going out there to continue to get the credit we deserve. We’re built for these moments, and we’re just going to keep stepping up and keep working.”

The way of the Musketeers is not easier. Xavier heads to Omaha to visit a Creighton team that has found its groove in conference play and is 8-1 at home this year. This notice comes Saturday at 12:15 pm ET.

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