CINCINNATI (AP) — With their balance, depth and wealth of experience, No. 5 Xavier aims to turn its very good start into something special in the Big East.
J.P. Macura scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half to get Xavier rolling, and Trevon Bluiett had 21 points as the Musketeers won their 10th in a row, beating Butler 86-79 on Tuesday night.
The Musketeers (15-1, 3-0 Big East) matched their highest ranking in school history on Monday. A day later, they matched the best start in school history, getting ahead by 14 points and holding on against the team that’s pulled off the biggest upset so far in the conference.
The last time the Musketeers did something comparable was 2015-16, when they also opened 15-1 and won 12 straight games. They finished with 28 wins but lost in the second round of both the conference and the NCAA tournaments.
“I would say we never can be satisfied,” said Macura, a senior guard. “I think we took our foot off the gas a little bit two years ago. I think this group — we push each other and we’re going to try to make a run.”
Butler (12-4, 2-1) was coming off 101-93 win over then-No. 1 Villanova on Saturday. The Bulldogs were hoping to take that momentum with them for the 100-mile trip to Xavier. Instead, they couldn’t hit enough shots to outscore a second straight Top 5 team.
“I told these guys that 79 points in this league is enough points to win,” coach LaVall Jordan said. “We’ve got to guard people, and we didn’t do a very good job. Giving up 86 points is too much. We’ve got to defend better.”
The Bulldogs were only 4 of 14 from beyond the arc in the first half, with Xavier leading 44-36. Kaiser Gates had a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer that pushed the lead to 66-52 midway through the second half.
Kamar Baldwin’s 3-pointer cut it to 79-74 with 1:09 left, but Xavier closed it out at the free-throw line. Baldwin had 28 points, and Kelan Martin added 25.
“We know we’re 1-2 on (opponents’) scouting reports, and we’ve got to be aware of that and make smart decisions,” Martin said. “Our shots just weren’t falling tonight.”
Butler: The Bulldogs buried Villanova with a flurry of 3s, including a school-record 10 straight. They were only 7 of 27 against Xavier’s man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone defense.
“I’ve got to give us a better plan against that,” Jordan said. “Their zone stymied us.”
Xavier: Bluiett was out of the starting lineup the last game against DePaul because he showed up late for a shoot-around, and he went only 4 of 13 from the field. He was 6 of 15 on Tuesday, scoring eight points on free throws. He’s been bothered by an injured right shoulder along with knee and hamstring issues.
“I felt like I played a little rushed and sped up on the offensive end,” Bluiett said. “That’s something I wasn’t doing earlier in the year. I’m just trying to get back into the swing of things. I’ve had the shoulder injury that’s played a part in it.”
Baldwin and Martin had 53 of Butler’s 79 points, part of a recent trend. They’ve averaged 51 points combined in the last three games.
“We can attack whenever we want,” Martin said. “Coach always says attack the rim, hit singles, get the easy ones. I think we’ve been doing that the past few games.”
Xavier forward Tyrique Jones was treated for a cut on his left temple in the first half and played with a bandage on it the rest of the game, scoring four points and getting nine rebounds in 19 minutes. Forward Kerem Kanter got a cut on his left eyelid in the second half and went to the locker room for treatment. He played 8 minutes, missed both of his shots and had four rebounds.
The Musketeers are at Providence on Saturday.