ORLANDO, Fla. — The Xavier Musketeers didn’t have the regular season they hoped to have. They are making up for it now.
The 11th-seeded Musketeers dominated third-seeded Florida State 91-66 during Saturday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament. Their second upset in the West Region put them back into the regional semifinal round for the second time in two years and eighth time in program history.
"I’m so excited for the guys next to me and the guys in the locker room. They earned it," Xavier coach Chris Mack said from the post-game podium. "Our team’s gone through a lot of adversity this year, and we stayed the course."
But the Musketeers (23-13) found little adversity Saturday as they dominated the bigger and more athletic Seminoles throughout the game. Trevon Bluiett led Xavier with 29 points while Kaiser Gates came off the bench to add 14.
Xavier, which knocked off No. 6 Maryland in the first round, hit big shots on perimeter and then forced FSU to try to shoot long range by sitting in a 2-3 zone much of the game. Led by Gates’ four 3-pointers, the Musketeers converted 11 of 17 from beyond the arc, nearly 65 per cent shooting.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, hit just 4 of 21 3-point attempts as they struggled to make up ground.
"We’ve been a very inconsistent 3-point shooting team this year, and obviously they knew that, and they packed it in," said FSU coach Leonard Hamilton, whose team finished second in the ACC this season. "We determined that if we were going to win the game we were going to have to hit from the perimeter, and they did a good job of denying."
Xavier knew the Seminoles like to slash to the basket and get out on fast breaks in transition. The Musketeers made it difficult for FSU to get into its comfort zone by playing zone and also by limiting their turnovers to just nine to force the Seminoles to have to play half-court offence.
Dwayne Bacon led FSU with 20 points but he was 0 for 5 from 3-point range. Canadian Xavier Rathan-Mayes was the only Seminoles starter to convert a 3-pointer.
The Musketeers, meanwhile, got production on the perimeter from several different areas with Bluiett also knocking down three 3s. But Xavier also dominated inside, outscoring the Florida State 27-17 in the paint with Sean O’Mara coming off the bench to contribute 11 points.
Xavier’s bench outscored the Seminoles’ 27-17.
"That’s the great thing about his team is we’ve got a lot of guys who can play," said J.P. Macura, who had 10 points and five assists. "If somebody is not stepping up, another person is."
DOMINANT FIRST HALF
After leading by as many as 15 points in the first half, Xavier went into halftime with a 44-34 lead over the Seminoles.
The Musketeers knocked down five 3-pointers during the first half compared to just one by FSU, but the biggest difference was their success inside against a much taller opponent.
The Seminoles didn’t get the production they expected from their bigs during the first half. Michael Ojo didn’t take a shot and had two rebounds and no blocks for the game and Christ Koumadje had no points and no blocks for the game.
Xavier will take on the winner of Saint Mary’s-Arizona game in the regional semifinals in the West.