Remy Abell scored a career-high 21 points, adding four assists and on turnovers to lead No. 6 Xavier to a blowout win over No. 9 Butler, 88-69.
The Musketeers entered the afternoon just 48 hours removed from their first loss of the season, a 31-point drubbing at the hands of two-time Big East champion Villanova. It was easy to look at that performance and think that Xavier had gotten exposed, which is part of the reason that the Musketeers came out the way that they did on Saturday.
Abell was the key.
Xavier didn’t just lose the game to Villanova on Thursday, they also lost star point guard Edmond Sumner to a head injury after a scary collision where 6-foot-7, 240 pound Kris Jenkins landed on Sumner’s head. He was not diagnosed with a concussion and was able to return to Cincinnati with the team on Thursday, but he did not suit up for the Musketeers in what was as close to a must-win game as you’ll find this early in the season. Falling to 0-2 in the Big East in a year where the top four teams are this strong would be a difficult hole to dig out of.
And Abell, who has the reputation of being one of the best perimeter defenders in the conference, was the guy who stepped up. He entered Saturday’s matchup averaging 6.9 points this season, but finished the after shooting 7-for-8 from the floor with a trio of triples, helping to fill the playmaker void that was vacated by Sumner.
This was a statement win for the Musketeers, who got a combined 21 points and 18 boards from their front court duo of Jalen Reynolds and James Farr and who hit 10-for-21 from beyond the arc. If it wasn’t clear enough on Thursday, it’s beyond obvious now: That loss to Villanova was all about how well the Wildcats’ played and the psyche of the Musketeers after seeing their point guard get stretchered off the floor.
As far as Butler is concerned, I’m don’t think it’s time for us to be too overly concerned at this point, but there are some issues that are going to need to be addressed. Specifically, the defensive end of the floor. Butler can’t get stops. 48 hours after Kris Dunn looked like LeBron James carving them up in the second half in Hinkle Fieldhouse, Xavier gave up 88 points on 56.1 percent shooting to a Xavier team that was missing their best playmaker.
Chris Holtmann changed three of his starters for this game, including Kellen Dunham, who seemed to snap out of his slump — he hit his first three threes, although he did end the afternoon 4-for-12 from the floor. I’m not worried about him, nor am I worried about any issues this group will have on the offensive end of the floor. Between Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, Kelan Martin and Tyler Lewis, they have plenty enough weapons.
But if they cannot find a way to consistently stop dribble penetration, the ceiling for just how far this team can go is going to be limited.