CINCINNATI — Xavier handed West Virginia its second loss of the season on Saturday, 84-74, after pushing past the Mountaineers in the second half at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati.
Bob Huggins returned to the home of his former rival, and the overcapacity Musketeer faithful indeed remembered the former leader of the Bearcats after nearly two decades. Even before tip-off, the Hall of Fame coach was greeted by a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
The Mountaineers (6-2) answered that salutation with a hot shooting hand. WVU built an early lead after making its first five shots, plus a trio of free throws for a perfect 16-point start.
Xavier (6-3) hung with WVU and kept the game within two possessions for the first five minutes. The Musketeers capitalized on Mountaineer miscues, including five turnovers in the first half, to stay within striking distance.
Jimmy Bell Jr. helped WVU get in front as he started to dominate the paint. He grabbed five rebounds and scored six points with a perfect shooting mark. Erik Stevenson kept the Mountaineers in front at the half, chipping in 14 points in the first period to lead WVU to a seven-point halftime lead.
West Virginia’s mistakes began to pile up after halftime and Xavier again capitalized. The Musketeers took the lead with just under 12 minutes remaining as the Mountaineers started to cool on offense. By the under-8 media timeout, momentum in the Cintas Center seemed to shift toward Xavier.
Jack Nunge and Souley Boum helped the Musketeers carry this energy to a lead. The duo combined for 30 points in the second half and scored 14 straight for Xavier to give their team its first double-digit lead of the game.
“They got open shots and they made them…We didn’t,” Huggins said.
WVU, meanwhile, went cold in the second half, making fewer than half its shots.
The tipping point in the game came on the glass, however. The Mountaineers lost the rebounding battle for the fourth time in five games, posting a minus-6 margin, the second-lowest of the season so far.
“We just had a great effort in blocking out and denying passes,” Nunge said. “We did a great job staying the course.”
Xavier grabbed nine offensive rebounds and turned those into 14 second-chance points.
Boum scored 23 points in the game, his third 20-plus-point performance of the season, and added seven assists and four rebounds. With his final free throw in the contest, he also reached 2,000 career points in his college career.
Nunge added 17 points to the scoring effort and finished with a game-high 14 rebounds. Colby Jones and Adam Kunkel also finished in double figures, adding 11 and 14 points, respectively.
Stevenson added just two points after the halftime break but still led WVU with 16 points. Bell and Emmitt Matthews Jr. each added 12 points.
West Virginia earns its second loss in four appearances in the Big East-Big 12 Battle. The defeat is also WVU’s second to Xavier after the Mountaineers fell in the 2008 Sweet Sixteen.