CINCINNATI – Zach Freemantle scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Colby Jones also scored 16, helping No. 22 Xavier hand No. 2 UConn its first loss of the season, 83-73, on Saturday.
Jack Nunge started for Xavier despite an illness that limited him during warmups. He didn’t rejoin the team after halftime until a couple of minutes into the half but finished with 15 points in 24 minutes.
“Thirty minutes before tipoff, he was sleeping,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “He looked awful, but he didn’t have a fever. He did the best that he could. We certainly wouldn’t have won if he didn’t play.”
Nunge’s effort wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“Jack came through in the biggest way,” Freemantle said. “He was in there getting fluids, then to see him be that impactful was motivating.”
Xavier (12-3, 4-0 Big East), which joined the AP Top 25 rankings this week, won its eighth consecutive game. Its three losses have come by a combined 13 points to Indiana, Duke, Gonzaga.
Adama Sanogo led UConn with 18 points. Andre Jackson Jr. scored 14 points and Jordan Hawkins had 11 for the Huskies.
UConn (14-1, 3-1 Big East) was off to its best start since beginning the 1998 season 19-0 and going on to win its first NCAA championship. The loss Saturday kept the Huskies from their best start since 1994-95 and left only No. 1 Purdue and No. 22 New Mexico as the only undefeated Division I teams this season.
“The group is real down,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “These guys wanted to make a statement on the road and have a chance to be No. 1 on Monday. Xavier’s as good as anybody in the league. Not many teams in the country could have come in here and won this game.”
Jerome Hunter’s 15 points for Xavier tied a career high. He had a career-high 10 rebounds in a win Wednesday at St. John’s, all off the bench.
“Jerome was the difference in the game tonight,” Miller said. “His energy was contagious.”
Hurley became increasingly displeased by the free-throw disparity. Xavier went 23 of 28 from the line while UConn was just 4 of 9.
With Xavier leading 74-71 with 2:25 to go after a Freemantle free throw, Hurley was assessed a technical foul for barking at the referees. Souley Boum hit two free throws and Freemantle hit his second, putting Xavier ahead 77-71.
The Musketeers finished the game on a 12-2 run.
“Put yourself in my shoes,” Hurley said. “You’re aware of the free-throw discrepancy. You see that. It’s factored into your mind. I wish I wouldn’t have said `unbelievable.”‘
Xavier led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but UConn ended the half on a 16-5 run to take a one-point lead into halftime.
Freemantle had 11 points and six rebounds in the first half to help the Musketeers get off to a fast start.
His corner 3-pointer put the Musketeers ahead 66-62 with 7:17 left.
“We beat one of the best teams in college basketball,” Miller said. “They are a very talented, well-oiled group. You have to beat them. They don’t beat themselves.”
UConn went 13 of 37 from 3-point range. The 37 attempts were one shy of a school record. “Maybe we could have been more selective,” Hurley said. “It’s one of those days. Alex (Karaban) with those types of looks would normally go 4 of 8, not 2 of 8. We just couldn’t make that big shot.”
UConn: Depth has been the hallmark of this Huskies squad, with 10 players averaging more than 14 minutes. All nine players who played Saturday scored for the Huskies.
Xavier: Turnovers have been an issue for the Musketeers, who averaged 14.1 turnovers coming in, with 15 or more eight times this season. They had only five turnovers in the second half Saturday after committing seven in the first half.
UConn: At Providence on Wednesday.
Xavier: At Villanova on Saturday.
No. 22 Xavier hands No. 2 UConn its first loss, 83-73 originally appeared on NBCSports.com