In a weird sort of way, Travis Steele got his wish on Thursday.
“I wanted to see how our group would respond to adversity, because that exposes who you are as a person and a team,” the Xavier coach said.
Steele got the answer he wanted on multiple fronts. Forced to play at Bradley’s slower pace and hindered offensively by the physical Braves’ 2-3 matchup zone, the Musketeers (2-0) made enough plays down the stretch to pull out a 51-50 win.
Now they’ll try for a sweep of the Xavier Invitational on Friday when they meet Toledo in Cincinnati.
The Musketeers got 19 points from Zach Freemantle and 17 from senior leader Paul Scruggs against Bradley, but it was freshman point guard Dwon Odom who produced the winning points. His running bank shot in the lane with 4.8 seconds left gave Xavier a one-point edge, and the Braves’ Terry Nolan Jr. clanked the front end of a one-and-one with 0.4 ticks on the clock to ice the outcome.
A day after scoring 101 points in a 52-point rout of Oakland, the Musketeers barely produced half that. However, they defended and rebounded well again, limiting Bradley to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and winning the board battle 47-40.
“Good teams will find ways to win games, even when we play ugly. We’ve got to be able to hang our hat on defense, which always allows you to be in the game,” Steele said.
While Xavier had to work for its win, Toledo bounced back from a tough 61-59 loss Wednesday to Bradley by drilling Oakland 80-53. The Rockets got a career-high eight 3-pointers and 24 points from senior Spencer Littleson. They finished the day with 16 treys, one off the single-game school record.
Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk pointed to one stat as a key to how well his players performed — their 25 assists on 28 made field goals.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a percentage that high for assists to field goals,” he said. “We shared the basketball about as well as you can, and that has to be a school record.”
The Rockets also defended and rebounded well. They limited Oakland to 31.4 percent shooting from the field, including a pitiful 2 of 23 from the 3-point arc, and owned a 45-30 advantage on the glass.
The in-state foes will square off for the first time since Xavier earned a 78-64 win in a 2019 NIT first-round game.
–Field Level Media