CINCINNATI (AP) — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.
Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.
Xavier was coming off an 84-67 loss at Creighton on Saturday.
“This was not an easy task,” coach Sean Miller said. “Traveling back from Omaha and not playing well, then losing Zach on the heels of that. I wouldn’t want to play Providence in any tournament. It’s tough to beat them.”
Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.
A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. But a Xavier turnover led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut the margin to one with 24 seconds left.
Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.
“I was just glad that last shot went in and out,” Nunge said.
Bynum hit a 3 at the buzzer to beat Xavier at Cintas Center last season, and his shot on Wednesday night appeared it was going in, too.
“I was having flashbacks to last year,” Jones said.
Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.
“We told him we were going to fight for him,” Jones said. “It was big for us. He does a lot on the court. We just played for him.”
Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.
It was only one game, but Miller was encouraged by how his team responded without one of its top players
“We worry mostly about him because of how hard he’s worked,” Miller said. “For him to go down now, when the spotlight is on college basketball, it’s very difficult. Losing Zach can bring out the best in other things and that’s what we’re really in search of right now.”
Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.
With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.
“We were just taking quick shots, a lot of 3s,” Jones said. “We did a great job of weathering the storm and sticking to our game plan.”
Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.
There was a frantic finish to regulation, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.
“We went into a hostile environment and I was proud of tenacity,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “Souley (Boum) showed why he’s an all-Big East-caliber guard. When you face these atmospheres and this type of coaching, you’re not going to go undefeated.”
The Musketeers, who average 13 turnovers per game, committed only five — their fewest since they had four in an 81-75 win over Georgetown on Jan. 9, 2019.
“The key stat for us was five turnovers in 45 minutes,” Miller said. “That’s why we won the game.”
Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason. “There are no moral victories ever in sports,” Cooley said. “But I’m happy where we are.”
Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes. “I credit Jerome’s toughness, and the energy he exerted on defense,” Miller said. “Just look at how much energy he used guarding Bryce Hopkins.”
Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.
Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.
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