Julian Mavunga shouted “shoot it” like a machine gun in an ambush at teammate Chris McHenry Wednesday night at Millett Hall. McHenry proceeded to beat the shot clock from 35 feet out with a bottle of Drano. That’s just how things went for the Miami University RedHawks against its Queen City counterpart.
The Xavier University Musketeers came to the land of cobblestone streets with a 5-1 record, but could not overcome a feisty foe on the heels of a three-game losing skid in the ‘Hawks. The Red and White pulled of a 75-64 victory without ever trailing.
“After he hit that shot I just knew it was going to be our night,” senior Nick Winbush said. “It felt like things would go our way for the rest of the game. I was like, alright.”
Winbush spread his RedHawk wingspan in the closing seconds of the contest and before the final whistle blew was embracing his teammates in a wiggling, writing, jostle of jubilation.
“That was probably one of the most satisfying wins I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Winbush said. “We beat Xavier my freshman year, but I didn’t play because I was hurt. I just saw what it was like and it was great to be a part of that. It felt great to be in that game and I loved it. It was a great win for us.”
Sparking the win was Winbush’s frontcourt mate Mavunga. Mavunga consistently boosted the decibel level of Millett Hall with his quickness around a 7-feet tall Kenny Frease and had several Goliath-sized slam dunks on his way to a career-high 24 points.
“Coach told me all week to be aggressive,” Mavunga said. “They felt as if I was wandering around the floor a little bit. Sometimes it just looked like I was out there moving. They advised me to attack more. They’ve been telling me all week that we have Frease coming in and if I play hard I could have some advantages on him inside and out. I could use my quickness around him and whoever is guarding me. Coaches put me in the right spots and ran a lot of plays for me. Credit to my teammates definitely.”
Mavunga drilled a three to open scoring, and the Musketeers misfired on seven straight shots. The RedHawk forward then sent a message when guard Orlando Williams found him on a pinpoint bounce pass that Mavunga emphatically crushed through the iron to cap off an 11-3 run. The Musketeers fought back to within two, but the RedHawks (3-4) went into the locker room with a 28-19 halftime advantage.
Frease and the Musketeers (5-2) came out ablaze in the second stanza, cutting the lead to 34-32 before Winbush came alive after just two first half points. The senior sniper struck for eight straight points for a 44-36 RedHawk lead. Seven points by senior Antonio Ballard made it 56-44 ‘Hawks.
With 2:41 left, the Musketeers pulled within two at 64-62. The RedHawks hit again and were up four when Ballard corralled a Winbush air all and fired it to McHenry, who put an exclamation point on the upset.
“I remember being right next to him,” Mavunga said. “I just remember yelling shoot it, shoot it, shoot it. I might have said it like 25 times. That was a huge shot. That’s a guy who kind of comes in and he’ll take crazy shots like that. He’ll come out before practice and say, you want to see what my range is like? It’s just funny that he hit that shot and it was huge. The expression on Coach Coles’ face with the point was just priceless after that. Chris, credit to him, came in and played well.”
Winbush netted 15 second half points while Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons put in 18 each for the Musketeers.
“Julian and Nick both played hard throughout the game,” Head Coach Charlie Coles said. “Even though our inside guys were out-sized, I thought our defense was good most of the time. Xavier is a great club and it took one of our best efforts to win the game.”