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New Haven’s Claude key piece off bench for No. 13 Xavier

- By David Borges

Heading into this season, Desmond Claude appeared to be in a battle for Xavier’s starting point guard.

Longtime Musketeer point guard Paul Scruggs had finally graduated, and it looked as though Claude, the freshman from New Haven, was locked in competitio­n with UTEP transfer Souley Boum for the point guard spot.

Boum won the competitio­n, and he’s been dominating Big East competitio­n all season, averaging 15.2 points per game and one of the frontrunne­rs for conference Player of the Year.

But Claude has carved out a key role as Boum’s back-up. He’s obviously not putting up the gaudy numbers that Boum is delivering, averaging 3.4 points in 18.2 minutes per game off the bench. But Claude, who began his career at Hillhouse High and finished up at Putnam Science Academy, is playing a key role for the 13th-ranked Musketeers.

Look no further than Wednesday night at Gampel Pavilion. Boum was the star, knocking down five 3-pointers and finishing with 21 points in Xavier’s 82-79 win over the UConn men’s basketball team. But Claude’s six points, four rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes off the bench impressed head coach Sean Miller just as much.

Miller pointed out that Claude and Jerome Hunter, the only two reserves who played for Xavier that night, may have been the keys to the team’s victory.

“I don’t know if we would have won tonight if they didn’t play their role in the game that they played,” Miller said on Wednesday.

Claude’s piece de resistance was a driving, twohanded dunk in traffic that gave Xavier a 32-18 lead late in the first half. He also grabbed a couple of loose-ball rebounds on Xavier’s next two possession­s, despite being surrounded by multiple UConn players.

Was Claude a little extra amped to play against his home state school?

“He certainly respects UConn, like we all do,” Miller said. “I don’t know if he was that much more ready as much as he’s improving. With freshmen, a lot of times around this time of the year, because they’ve practiced and played in all these arenas, all these styles of play that we face, at some point they’re no longer freshmen. I really look at Dez in that way right now. He’s more confident.”

Claude told Hearst Connecticu­t Media a year ago that he didn’t really grow up a UConn fan, though James Bouknight was his “favorite player to watch in college” at one point. Recruiting interest from the Huskies was minimal, which Claude insisted wasn’t a letdown.

“It would’ve been nice, though,” he quickly added.

Claude committed to Xavier head coach Travis Steele in the fall of 2021, and re-committed to the program after Steele was fired last March and Miller took over the reins.

At Big East Media Day in October, Miller told Hearst Connecticu­t Media: “We had the opportunit­y to recruit him and his family. We’re certainly thrilled that he made the decision to stay with us.”

This week’s AP Top 25 ballot

1. Purdue: Can Donovan Clingan eventually be what Zach Edey is?

2. Tennessee: Can Rick Barnes finally break through in the NCAA tournament?

3. Kansas State: Jerome Tang for National Coach of the Year?

4. Arizona: Wildcats play two big men together. Imagine that!

5. Alabama: Got absolutely smoked by a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team (Oklahoma)

6. Kansas: Avoided first fourgame losing streak of Bill Self Era.

7. Virginia: Cavs have a little offensive punch to go with stifling D.

8. Houston: Struggled to beat Cincinnati at home.

9. Texas: No major drop-off since Chris Beard’s departure.

10. UCLA: We still don’t trust Mick Cronin in a big spot.

11. Gonzaga: May be challenged by Saint Mary’s for WCC crown.

12. Baylor: Might be fourth or fifth best team in Big 12.

13. Xavier: Flattened at Creighton after big win at Gampel.

14. Marquette: Tyler Kolek a legit candidate for Big East Player of Year.

15. TCU: No big punishment for OT loss at Mississipp­i State.

16. Miami: Hurricanes’ backcourt is as good as any.

17. Iowa State: UConn’s doubledigi­t win over Cyclones still looks good.

18. Clemson: All along in first place in ACC at 10-1!

19. Providence: Winning at Villanova is always good, especially with Justin Moore back.

20. San Diego State: Five of six Quad 1 wins have come away from home.

21. New Mexico: Richard Pitino may be best coach in his family right now.

22. Saint Mary’s: Showdown with Gonzaga on Saturday.

23. Florida Atlantic: Who would’ve thought Jalen Gaffney would be ranked, UConn not.

24. Texas A&M: Hassan Diarra’s former team is 7-1 in the SEC.

25. Indiana: The talent has always been there.

 ?? Jessica Hill/Associated Press ?? Xavier’s Desmond Claude dunks over UConn’s Adama Sanogo, left, and Jordan Hawkins, right, in the first half on Wednesday in Storrs.
Jessica Hill/Associated Press Xavier’s Desmond Claude dunks over UConn’s Adama Sanogo, left, and Jordan Hawkins, right, in the first half on Wednesday in Storrs.

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