The rust looks gone: Zach Freemantle shines as Xavier dismantles Ball State

The first four minutes were complete rubbish on Wednesday night. Xavier didn't look ready to play against Ball State and shortly before the first media timeout of the first half, head coach Travis Steele nearly made a complete line change. With his team trailing 7-2, Steele brought four players in off the bench and something changed.

Maybe some ceremonial smelling salts were used or perhaps they busted out the Big League Chew and passed it around Sandlot style.

Whatever happened, everything changed. The Musketeers went from looking lifeless to closing the first half on a 43-16 run and the foot that found the gas pedal stayed there in the second half as Xavier went on to beat Ball State 96-50.

The play that seemed to spark some life was a relatively simple post feed from Adam Kunkel to Zach Freemantle, who finished with an elegant little hook shot. Paul Scruggs backed that play up with a confident drive that he finished, then followed it with a 3-pointer. Freemantle then went big man to big man with a sneaky pass to Jack Nunge for a slam.

All that started wrong quickly became right. The Musketeers were moving, shaking, and most importantly, Freemantle looked like the player who was a first-team All-Big East preseason selection. He moved well, played with confidence and passion, and when he checked out of the game with a little more than five minutes remaining, Xavier fans showed their appreciation after watching the 6-foot-9 junior, who in his third appearance of the season, finished with a game-high 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes.

"The thing I'll say about Zach is he knew this was going to be a little bit of process to get back to where he normally is," Steele said after the game. "We kept on telling him it's not going to happen overnight. You gotta knock that rust off. He hasn't done anything in four months. We're all accustomed that Zach Freemantle, right?

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"... I thought he stayed positive throughout this whole process, didn't get frustrated, hasn't gotten down. He obviously wants to play better than maybe he played against Central Michigan and Oklahoma State, but I thought he got better from Central Michigan to Oklahoma State, and then obviously, you see a progression here into this game."

Freemantle got up and down the floor in transition, he posted up and Xavier worked to get him the ball. He battled on the glass and was incredibly efficient at both ends, particularly on offense, going 9-of-11 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the foul line.

"It felt good," said Freemantle. "It's been a real long process to be able to go out there and help my team get a win like that, it felt real good."

It wasn't just Freemantle who was clicking either. Everyone who touched the floor played well.

Colby Jones continued his Heisman campaign with 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Nate Johnson hit four 3-pointers, giving him 20 deep balls over Xavier's last five games, and finished with 14 points. Scruggs had seven points and nine rebounds. Nunge added nine points and five boards. Dwon Odom banged in a 3-pointer and posted seven points, six assists and five rebounds. Jerome Hunter's decision-making was much better and he added seven points, four rebounds and three steals.

"We have a ton of depth and we keep on telling all of our guys, listen, we all have to sacrifice in order to win," said Steele. "It's part of it. We got a chance to be a really good team as long as we keep everybody on the boat and everybody moving forward."

It was a complete team win. The only negative to come out of Wednesday was 18 turnovers and the slow start.

It was a good precursor to Saturday's Crosstown Shootout. The Musketeers took care of business, improved to 8-1, and now the focus turns to Cincinnati.

"I tell our guys all the time when you get up at 6 a.m. in the summer, these are the moments you live for, it's the best rivalry in all of college basketball," said Steele. "Some of our guys have never experienced it ... the environment is going to be absolutely electric at 8:30 on Saturday night.

"It's a player's game. It's all about toughness ... that's what wins this game."

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Xavier Basketball: Zach Freemantle shines in win over Ball State