That Felt Almost Inevitable.

posted by Mo Egger, ESPN1530 -

Some time in between Karen Kanter's first made three-pointer of the season that made it 26-9 in favor of the Xavier Musketeers, and his second that made it 29-13, the inevitability set in. 

Xavier was going to win the Skyline Chili Crosstown Shootout. 

Much of XU's win over UC at the Cintas Center, something that seems inevitable enough on its own, followed a familiar Shootout script.  The Muskies made shots, some of which come from unexpected shooters.  The Bearcats, regardless of who took them and how good their shots were, did not.

The biggest Bearcat fears coming in were about how a untested UC team would handle everything that the Shootout would throw at them. Could a team that hadn't yet faced much resistance handle the first barrage from both the Muskies and their crowd.

The answer was no, at least until the game was all but over.  Yes, Cincinnati used its defense, including some encouraging rim protection by Eliel Nsoseme to remain on the fringe of competitiveness, but with the game at 70-57, four straight Bearcat defensive stops to miss three open treys and turn the ball over twice. 

UC's brief comeback that wasn't was aided by an awakening of Jarron Cumberland and Jacob Evans, who had strong showings statistically but were largely absent when the game was actually being decided. But even as they tried to claw back into the game, there was an overriding feeling that XU would have an answer for UC's desperation.

Which, of course, the Muskies did. UC might have held Trevon Bluiett to under 40, but the Xavier senior was easily the best player on the court, posting 28 points and making five of his ten threes. Kanter's 17 complemented Bluiett's scoring, and even though he finished with only eight, Tyrique Jones set the tone for XU with two early buckets against a soft UC interior D.

Inside play was a problem all afternoon for the Bearcats, who faced little chance of winning if they didn't have at least a slight edge on the glass. Xavier crushed UC on the boards, outrebounding the Bearcats by 17, and bruising their way to a 19-5 edge in second-chance points. 

A raucous crowd. The best player on both teams having a big scoring night. A wide disparity in three-point shooting. And a clear advantage in rebounding. It's mildly surprising the Musketeers didn't win by more.

The game was followed by a postgame sideshow pitting Mick Cronin against (apparently) JP Macura, with Chris Mack sticking up for his player.  Words were exchanged. Press conference shots were fired. And as much of a fan of Mick Cronin, his program, and the way he runs it as I am, I think a coach should be above getting into it with an opposing player, either on the court or at the podium.

Mick v. JP, with Chris Mack in his corner, will surely be talked about as much, if not more, than the game itself. That will distract from the fact that UC didn't seem ready today and now much find some answers before playing Florida, Mississippi State, and UCLA in the coming weeks. And it will take away from how XU bounced back from last Friday's Vegas debacle to win consecutive home games against nationally ranked teams.

Even with the postgame he said/he said being a new and different part of this year's Crosstown Shootout narrative, with the game being played where it was and the heroes emerging for Xavier the way they did, the result of this year's game might not have been inevitable, but it sure feels like it was. 

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Mo Egger

Mo Egger

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