BROOKLYN – There was a different Xavier team on the floor Friday night against Virginia Tech at the Barclays Center.
It was different from the team that lost on the same floor two nights earlier, not simply because of the result, or the way they played, but the Musketeers were without three starters – Colby Jones, Jerome Hunter and Dieonte Miles – due to illness, and in spite of that managed a miracle win in the final seconds, 59-58.
With 25 seconds left and Xavier trailing 58-56, fifth-year senior Nate Johnson drilled his seventh 3-pointer of the game to give Xavier the lead.
Johnson was set up off a Dwon Odom drive and kick that put the pass in perfect position for Johnson to connect.
"We had nothing really set up, we were really just looking for an open shot and my teammates, Dwon's a hard driver and he looked at me and got me open and I made the shot," said Johnson.
Head coach Travis Steele said, "We didn't really have many plays in ... we knew we were in unique circumstances with our roster and played a lot of four guards, we never practiced that before. We walked through some things during shoot-around today because we didn’t know who was going to be available. Listen, you just find a way."
After Virginia Tech and Xavier traded timeouts with 6.9 seconds left, Virginia Tech's Hunter Cattoor missed a floater in the lane and the offensive rebound tip-in attempt by Justyn Mutts rolled off the rim at the buzzer.
During that timeout, Steele wanted Odom on Cattoor.
"I think Dwon's our best defender," said Steele. "Hunter's ... a great player, scores the ball. They run really good stuff to get him shots. I thought it was a heavily contested shot.
"I did tell those guys, I said, 'Hey, listen, most games are won and lost on the offensive glass. We cannot forget to block out.' Mutts had a tip. Pretty good look, right? Fortunately, we were on the good side of things today."
Johnson finished with a career-high 30 points, going 7-of-11 from beyond the arc and 10-of-14 from the floor.
Xavier scored only 24 points as a team in the second half and Johnson had 15 of them.
"Oh my God, it's incredible, he's an incredible shooter," Jack Nunge said of Johnson. "When he's hot we gotta find him, keep giving him looks and we have all the confidence in the world that he's gonna make every shot he takes."
Johnson hit from deep to tie the game, 53-53, with 2:56 left. Then Nunge, who finished with nine points and 14 rebounds, hit a 3-pointer with 1:56 to play to tie it up again, 56-56.
Without Jones, Hunter and Miles, Xavier went with Adam Kunkel, freshman Cesare Edwards and junior KyKy Tandy off the bench. All three stepped up and contributed. During the first half when Xavier went on a 14-0 run, it did so with a lineup of Scruggs, Johnson, Kunkel, Tandy and Edwards.
"You just gotta focus on the things you can control," said Steele. "And it's unfortunate, Colby, Jerome, Dieonte, and Adam (who missed Wednesday's game with the same illness) obviously, Paul's been guttin' it out. Let's put it that way ... which I'm really proud of him doing. He's playing a lot of minutes, too.
"It's out of our control, we're gonna play who's in uniform. We're gonna be who we are, right? Regardless of who's playing that night, or how many minutes certain guys play, I don't really care. We're gonna be the toughest team. We're gonna be the most connected team on that floor. That's what we did tonight."