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Growing up not too far away in Newburgh, Indiana, Jack Nunge had heard and seen the Crosstown Shootout. He called it one of the best rivalries in any sport on Friday during Xavier's pre-game press conference.
On Saturday night in front of a sold-out Cintas Center crowd of 10,707 – the seventh-largest crowd in arena history – Nunge, making his first appearance in the rivalry, put his stamp on the Shootout in a way Xavier fans likely won't forget anytime soon.
The Iowa transfer came off the bench and provided the most impactful minutes on the floor in an 83-63 win in which Nunge posted a game-high 31 points and 15 rebounds, both collegiate career highs.
His presence at both ends was something Cincinnati didn't have an answer for. Nunge was a beast on the boards with seven offensive rebounds and he sent his 7-foot body flying all over the floor for loose balls.
Nunge battled in the post, stepped out and hit a pair of 3-pointers, and when the game was getting out of hand in the second half, the Cintas Center crowd spent much of their time chanting his name.
"To see Jack Nunge have success, man, I'm sure all you guys know how much adversity he's been through in his life and just to see him have the success he's having here at Xavier, man, it honestly just makes me smile," said Xavier head coach Travis Steele. "What stood out to me was just his composure ... he's just calm, cool and collected. He's the same guy every single day. He's played in big college basketball games. This is his first Shootout, but he's played in big ones."
Nunge, who has had to deal with two major knee injuries and the unexpected death of his father four days before the start of last season, said, "It's like no other. I wasn't lying when I said I had chills before the game. I could just tell the atmosphere was different."
The 20-point win is tied for the third-largest margin of victory by Xavier in the series and it's the third win in a row in the Shootout for the Musketeers.
With the win, Paul Scruggs, a fifth-year senior, becomes the first player in Xavier history to beat UC four times in his career.
"Paul Scruggs, I thought he set the tone for us early in the game," said Steele. "He's just a warrior. He's a winner. So proud of him. How much this game means to him and how much Xavier means across his chest, man, he's a Xavier guy through and through."
Scruggs was steady on Saturday like you'd expect someone playing in his fifth Shootout to be with 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals.
"He says all the right stuff. Paul's our leader, he's our heart and soul," said Nunge. "We're all gonna follow him. He texted us multiple times throughout the day (that) he's ready. He asked us if we were ready, and we were."
Scruggs was asked after the game if a moment like this was one of the reasons why he wanted to return for a fifth season.
"Of course, I came back for my teammates and the fans, you know, I want to go out with a bang," said Scruggs, who ends his career with a 4-1 record against the Bearcats.
When asked if there was anything he wanted to say to Xavier fans, Scruggs said, "They helped us zip 'em up."
Cincinnati was up 11-10 when the Musketeers turned a corner and never looked back. Xavier closed the first half on a 32-16 run, took control of the game and Cincinnati never recovered.
Adam Kunkel was clutch off the bench with 12 points and a pair of 3-pointers. Dwon Odom played well with five points, four assists, three rebounds and one turnover. Despite two early fouls that kept Colby Jones on the bench for 18 minutes in the first half, Jones scored eight points in the second half.
Zach Freemantle scored eight points but exited the game early after his second technical foul with 3:24 left. His first technical came in the first half after a scramble for a loose ball, and the second came after Freemantle blocked a shot that was followed by some extracurricular activity.
The Musketeers outrebounded UC 41-28 and Xavier only turned the ball over nine times.
Xavier switched between its two-three zone and man-to-man defense, keeping UC off balance and out of rhythm all game.
The Musketeers are 9-1 with one non-conference game remaining on Wednesday against Morehead State, before welcoming Marquette on Saturday to open Big East Conference play.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Xavier vs Cincinnati basketball: Musketeers get blowout win