Colby Jones had a game-high 20 points and Adam Kunkel added 18 on Senior Night in his final home game to lead the 19th-ranked Xavier Musketeers past visiting Butler, 78-66, Saturday night in Cincinnati.
Souley Boum added 11 and Jack Nunge had 10 for Xavier (23-8, 15-5 Big East), which entered the game already locked into the No. 2 seed in this week’s Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Xavier is off until Thursday night, when they play the winner of the DePaul-Seton Hall game in the conference quarterfinals.
Before the game, graduate student stars Boum and Nunge and senior Kunkel were recognized with Musketeer swords in their final home game at Cintas Center.
Jayden Taylor had 16 and Chuck Harris added 13 for Butler (14-17, 6-14), which will be the No. 9 seed and will play No. 8 St. John’s in a first-round game Wednesday afternoon that opens the tournament.
Butler opened the game ice cold, making just four of their first 17 shots while Xavier was 8-for-16 in racing out to an 18-9 lead. Butler’s shooting didn’t improve much through the game, finishing 3-for-16 from beyond the arc.
The Musketeers built their lead up to as many as 12, leading 33-21, and were in complete control for the entire first half. Kunkel, who fought back tears in his pregame presentation, led Xavier with 11 first-half points and helped the Musketeers to a 37-27 halftime lead.
A Harris jumper trimmed Xavier’s lead to three, 48-45, and a Jalen Thomas straightaway three tied the game. A Xavier turnover led to a Taylor steal and breakaway one-handed slam that gave Butler its first lead of the game, 50-48, with just over 12 minutes remaining.
Nunge’s three put Xavier back on top for good with 11:36 left.
Xavier had a chance with 10:29 remaining to take control on a personal foul and technical foul on Simas Lukosius but he missed three of four free throws. After a Lukosius layup cut Xavier’s lead to two, the Musketeers scored the game’s next six points as part of a 20-8 spurt to regain control.
The game marked the return of Butler head coach Thad Matta to the Cintas Center for the first time since he coached the Musketeers for three seasons between 2001-04, before leaving for Ohio State.
–Field Level Media