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Barnburner on tap as No. 25 Marquette visits No. 12 Xavier

Jan 11, 2023; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Xavier Musketeers guard Souley Boum (0) celebrates the victory over the Creighton Bluejays at Cintas Center. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

If the saying is true that defense wins championships and offense sells tickets, No. 12 Xavier and No. 25 Marquette should be expecting a sold-out crowd when they meet on Sunday in Cincinnati.

The Musketeers (14-3, 6-0 Big East) and Golden Eagles (14-4, 6-1) wield the two highest-scoring offenses in the Big East, and neither team has shown any signs of slowing down.

Xavier is averaging a conference-best 84.4 points per game and is coming off its 10th consecutive victory after downing Creighton 90-87 on Wednesday. The Bluejays pulled within one with two seconds remaining when Trey Alexander hit a 3-pointer, but Souley Boum converted a pair of free throws shortly after to seal the win.

Boum led all scorers with 26 points, Colby Jones supplied 20 and Jack Nunge chipped in 15 to go along with 12 rebounds as the Musketeers scored at least 80 points for the fourth straight game.

Jones attributes Xavier’s recent success to first-year head coach Sean Miller, who came to the Musketeers after 12 seasons at Arizona.

“He has a great game plan. He’s a great coach. He just gives all his players confidence,” Jones said. “I feel like the biggest thing is all my teammates, we’re all buying into his system. I feel like that’s a big key. Everyone’s unselfish.

“When you buy in like that, it’s a good thing.”

Marquette is also streaking, with an 82-76 victory over No. 6 UConn on Wednesday night marking their fifth straight win. The Golden Eagles went up by nine with 2:31 left after a pair of David Joplin free throws, and every time the Huskies tried to inch their way back, Marquette had a response.

Oso Ighodaro led a balanced scoring attack with 19 points. Olivier-Maxence Prosper contributed 17 points and six boards, Kam Jones had 15 points and Tyler Kolek delivered eight assists.

Although Marquette has seemingly found its rhythm, it’s been prone to getting off to slow starts.

The Golden Eagles have trailed at halftime in each of their past four games but are averaging 48.5 points in second halves during that stretch to offset the first-half struggles.

Marquette head coach Shaka Smart said that his team’s ability to recover following the break stems from the fact that it isn’t afraid of any opponent.

“Our guys, through 18 games, there’s an even stronger belief than before that we can win against great teams going down the stretch of close games,” Smart said. “Coming into this season, we had a lot of confidence as a team — our coaches and our players — but there were a lot of unknowns.

“The fact that our guys are playing better down the stretch of games I think is in a lot of ways because they’ve done it now, and they’ve been in some games, and we took some lumps in some close games early in the year.”

Smart will look for his team to get off to a faster start on Sunday when the Golden Eagles meet Xavier for the 82nd time. Marquette holds a 55-26 record in the all-time series and has won six of the past eight meetings between the teams.

–Field Level Media