Marquette looks to bounce back in conference opener against Xavier

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Photo by Isabel Bonebrake

Redshirt first-year guard Tyler Kolek (22) and redshirt first-year forward Justin Lewis (10) high-five each other in Marquette men’s basketball’s 67-66 win over No. 10 Illinois Nov. 15.

After a quick one-game home stand, Marquette men’s basketball is heading back on the road to Cincinnati, Ohio to kick off the BIG EAST conference season against the No. 22 Xavier Musketeers. 

The Golden Eagles finished up their non-conference season with a record of 8-3 after falling by a final of 67-56 to No. 4 UCLA on Saturday. Additionally, Marquette lost two of their last three contests with the loss at Wisconsin and the one-point win at Kansas State. 

Despite falling to the Bruins, redshirt-junior guard Greg Elliott had a breakout performance, shooting 6-for-9 from beyond the arc and scoring a career-high 22 points. He hadn’t scored more than eight points this season after missing the first four games due to a suspension.

The Musketeers enter Saturday’s conference opener coming off a 10-1 non-conference season and a big 86-63 win over Morehead State on Wednesday. 

Xavier has wins over rival Cincinnati, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and most notably Ohio State, who is currently No. 15 in the AP Poll. Their lone loss was to Iowa State, who is ranked No. 11 in the AP Poll. 

The Musketeers have a balanced scoring attack with four players averaging double figures. Junior forward Jack Nunge leads the way with 13 points a game. He also leads the team with 1.7 blocks per game and is second with 7.5 rebounds a game. 

The other three double-figure scorers are all guards in senior Nate Johnson (12.9), sophomore Colby Jones (12.5) and senior Paul Scruggs (11.3). The 6-foot-6 Jones leads the team with 8.2 rebounds a game as well as 1.6 steals a game. Scruggs leads the team with 4.1 assists a game. 

For the Golden Eagles, redshirt first-year forward Justin Lewis leads the team in points and rebounds at 15.4 and 7.8 respectively. As Marquette enters BIG EAST play, they have the league leader in assists with redshirt first-year guard Tyler Kolek averaging 5.6 per game and the leader in blocks with graduate student forward Kur Kuath averaging 2.9 per game. 

Xavier will be the third nationally ranked opponent Marquette has faced in their last four matchups. This matchup also starts a stretch where four of the first five BIG EAST opponents Marquette will face in the conference season either are ranked or have received votes in the latest AP Poll.

Last season these teams split the season series with each team winning on their home court. Scruggs scored 29 points in a thrilling 91-88 win at the Cintas Center where the Musketeers won on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Adam Kunkel. Marquette then won the matchup at Fiserv Forum on senior day 66-59.

Saturday’s game will be broadcasted on FS1, tipping off at 3:00 p.m. CST. Following today’s game Marquette will head back home for a matchup with the UCONN Huskies on Tuesday night at Fiserv Forum.

This article was written by Matt Yeazel. He can be reached at matthew.yeazel@marquette.edu or on Twitter @MJYeazel.