The newest chapter of one of college basketball's greatest rivalries took place Saturday night in Cincinnati, Ohio. Separated by a mere 3.3 miles, Xavier and Cincinnati put it all on the line for the 83rd Crosstown Shootout.
The Bearcats lead the all-time series 49-33, but recently the series has been dominated by the Musketeers who won six of the last 8 battles coming into the game. Xavier's recent success continued as the Musketeers won a hard fought battle 65-55, their third straight win over UC.
The magnitude of this rivalry matchup was summed up by Xavier basketball alumni, and beloved Uber driver, Matt Stainbrook in one passionate tweet:
Xavier overcame two early fouls by their emotional big man Jalen Reynolds and rushed out to a 16-6 lead. A charge taken by sharpshooter J.P. Macura, a trio of 3s from Myles Davis and Remy Abell and an early technical foul on Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin successfully ignited the Cintas Center and stole away all the momentum early on.
In emotional rivalry games like this, experience plays a big role in controlling the basketball game and maintaing emotions. The junior point guard Davis took the reigns early on scoring a game-high 10 points in the opening half, including a 3 right before the buzzer to give the Musketeers a 42-26 lead at the break.
While upperclassmen Davis, Abell and James Farr brought the leadership, sophomore J.P. Macura provided the spark. Not only did he take the previously mentioned charge, but he made all the hustle plays and contributed six points, three rebounds and a steal off of the bench.
Cincinnati didn't get discouraged by their 16 point halftime deficit however, as they went on a 10-0 run to begin the second half. The senior Farad Cobb got them going with two early makes from behind the arc cutting Xavier's lead to just six.
Xavier held off the initial Bearcat run, although struggling on the defensive glass. Davis seemed to hit big shot after big shot for the Muskies and his 3 with 13:32 to play extended Xavier's lead back to double digits.
Cincinnati hung tough and stayed in the game fighting back after every punch Xavier threw at them continually cutting the lead back down to single digits. However, Edmond Sumner slammed one home with authority and got the Cintas Center crowd and his teammates back into it. The Muskies followed that up with a steal and fast break score by Davis extending their lead back to 11. Davis finished with 17 points. Cincinnati never managed to get over the hump after Sumner's jam.
The 1-3-1 zone defense was was Xavier head coach Chris Mack's answer to the Bearcats. Although the Musketeers surrendered 11 offensive rebounds, their zone suffocated the Bearcats offense and forced them to go long stretches without adding any points to the scoreboard.
Jalen Reynolds who was quiet in the first half due to foul trouble was a big factor in the later stages of the game. His size and presence alone gave Cincinnati issues finishing with eight points, six rebounds and three steals. Xavier's other star Trevon Bluiett was also relatively quiet contributing just three points and six boards. However, this game showed that Xavier's supporting cast is good enough to beat high level opponents when their stars are having rough nights.
With this win Xavier improved to 10-0 and added another statement win to their tournament résumé. The Musketeers have proven that they are one of the very best teams in the country already earning convincing wins over Michigan, Dayton and now Cincinnati. The Musketeers are balanced, they can score, they can defend and most importantly they play with a lot of heart. The Big East and the entire NCAA should take notice because X looks like it's poised to make quite a run this season.
But for now it's a thrilling rivalry win for the Musketeers and one that means a lot to their university. Xavier proved once again Saturday night that they are the best team in the Queen City.