Defense and 3-pointers have been staples for No. 25 Xavier throughout the season.
In their opening game of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn, the Musketeers went flat in both categories as they fell 82-70 to Iowa State on Wednesday. Xavier (4-1) will meet Virginia Tech, a 69-61 loser to No. 9 Memphis, in the consolation game Friday night.
Xavier allowed Iowa State to hit 51.5 percent of its shots and 50 percent (10 of 20) from 3-point territory.
Consequently, the Musketeers couldn’t find their shooting touch, as they made only 3 of 21 3-point attempts and shot 43.3 percent from the field. They were 9 of 25 overall and 1 of 9 from beyond the arc in the second half.
Head coach Travis Steele knew his club’s defensive breakdowns would be a huge obstacle to overcome.
“You guys ask questions about the defensive end and you’re 1,000 percent right,” said Steele. “This is the first time I didn’t feel like we played towards our identity this year. Iowa State was the harder playing team. They were the more physical team. They were the tougher team tonight. That’s why they won the game. Point blank. End of story.”
Jack Nunge came off the bench and poured in a career-high 24 points and Colby Jones had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Leading scorer Paul Scruggs struggled by converting just 1 of 14 shots, and he missed his final 13 attempts to finish with just three points.
Adam Kunkel, the team’s third-leading scorer, didn’t play on Wednesday due to an illness. His playing status will be determined at tip-off.
Steele watched his club lose momentum after they held a 39-38 lead at halftime. Iowa State opened the second half with a 9-0 run.
“I thought our guys lost their minds a little bit in the second half,” Steele said. “Missed a layup early. Missed a couple wide-open threes. They went on their run and punched us in the mouth. And I thought that really affected our offense.”
Virginia Tech (5-1) stayed close throughout its contest with No. 9 Memphis, but the Hokies couldn’t finish. The Hokies had won their first five games by an average of 28 points.
The Memphis defense held Virginia Tech to just 33.9 percent shooting from the field, and 33.3 percent (7 of 21) from 3-point range. Nahiem Alleyne scored 21 points and Keve Aluma added 14.
“We weren’t quite ourselves offensively,” said Virginia Tech coach Mike Young. “Memphis is a very good defensive club, and they were scrappy offensively.”
While Memphis led for most of the game, the Tigers couldn’t put the Hokies away, and Alleyne made a 3-pointer with 4:36 left to give Virginia Tech a 56-55 edge.
“Usually (we) have a much better rhythm,” added Young. “Usually we get some things — and we had cracks at it — around the rim. That was the first time we weren’t quite ourselves offensively. Again, Memphis had a lot to do with that.”
–Field Level Media