No. 16 Xavier battling injuries entering clash with Villanova


No. 16 Xavier is hoping to overcome a rash of injuries and illnesses when it hosts Villanova on Tuesday night in a Big East matchup in Cincinnati.

Xavier (20-7, 12-4 Big East) raced out to a 28-point lead and cruised to an 82-68 win over DePaul on Saturday at Cintas Center.

The Musketeers were shorthanded coming into the game, as reserve guards Desmond Claude (illness) and Kam Craft (knee) were unavailable while Zach Freemantle (broken left foot) missed his fifth straight game.

During the game, Jerome Hunter and reserve guard KyKy Tandy suffered ankle injuries, with Tandy in a walking boot after the game. Hunter, filling in for Freemantle, matched a season-high with 15 points to go with nine rebounds.

“We’re running out of players,” Xavier head coach Sean Miller said. “KyKy was hobbled. Jerome turned his ankle. We’re at the point now where we’re down to three or four scholarship guys. I’m hoping that those guys can rebound. I’m hoping Des Claude can come back. At some point, we’ve got to have the benefit of health.

“I don’t think I’ve been around a team that’s gone through (a situation) where five guys had flu-like symptoms the day of a game, two significant ankle injuries, one broken foot. We’ve weathered a lot of that, and again that’s to our team’s credit. But we have to get healthy here as we move down the homestretch.”

Jack Nunge had 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists while Colby Jones added 14 points and four steals. Adam Kunkel finished with 16 points, eight assists and five rebounds for Xavier, which scored 49 points in the first half, all by their starters.

Xavier beat the Wildcats 88-80 on Jan. 7, its first-ever win at Villanova in Big East play. Xavier will be looking for another first Tuesday when they aim for their first regular season sweep of the Wildcats.

Freshman phenom Cam Whitmore had a team-high 26 points for Villanova on 11-of-18 shooting in the first meeting while Caleb Daniels added 23. Freemantle, who is expected to again sit out, led Xavier with a game-high 29 points. Souley Boum added 22.

Villanova (13-14, 7-9) has struggled under first-year coach Kyle Neptune. On Saturday, the Wildcats had their modest three-game win streak snapped at No. 24 Providence, losing 85-72.

Villanova fell behind 24-12 early, fought back to close within 36-31 at halftime. The Wildcats took their first lead of the game, 40-39, following Whitmore’s steal with 17:09 left in the game.

But Villanova missed nine of their next 10 shots while Providence rallied with a 14-4 run over the next six minutes. Villanova drew within 63-61 on a layup by Daniels with 4:53 left but couldn’t get closer and were outscored 22-11 down the stretch.

“You go on the road and start a game like that and give them confidence, it’s tough,” Neptune said. “Key rebounds, a couple key possessions where we couldn’t get a stop really hurt us in the end.”

Villanova, which reached the Final Four last year for the third time in six seasons, fell to 3-4 since the return of starting point guard Justin Moore from a torn Achilles injury in last season’s NCAA tournament.

–Field Level Media

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