On the brink of the biggest stage on college basketball, Xavier needed only dispatch the NC State Wolfpack to move on to a matchup with a very familiar St. Louis team. However, on this night, they simply didn't have it in them. Things started promisingly enough with Matt Stainbrook having 6 points and State star TJ Warren 2 fouls as the under-16 timeout of the first half rolled around. However, in a trend that would haunt them the rest of the night, the Musketeers failed to capitalize on their opportunity and, by the time Warren scored his next basket, it was part of a 15-6 run that would put State up by 10 with 7 minutes left in the first half.
One of the most important plays of the game happened at 8:32 when Warren and Semaj Christon collided and Christon was called for a player control foul. Had this been Warren's 3rd foul, it sure would have affected the flow of the rest of the first half, but the men in the striped shirts were no friends of Semaj's by the end of this game due to this and several other calls.
X closed the half by playing one of their best stretched of basketball on the night with Stainbrook, Philmore, and Christon an chipping in multiple baskets to cut the lead to 6 heading into the break. It had not been a banner half for the Muskies, but there was still hope to turn things around.
The first four minutes of the second half would prove to be the high water mark for Xavier on the night. An early 3 from Ralston Turner had NC State up 7, but a quick 5-0 run from Xavier prompted a timeout and plenty of angst from the NC State bench. Out of the break Warren missed a 3 and Xavier had their chance to tie the score for the first time since it was 4-4. However, Justin Martin's 3 attempt was just off the mark and from that point until the under-12 timeout, Warren would go for 8 points and 2 steals, taking the game over in the pivotal stretch. The closest Xavier would get after that point was 5 points, at 51-46, but an 11-4 run salted the game away and, as the buzzer rang in Dayton, the curtain came down on a bitterly short run into March for the Musketeers.
-How big of a factor will the crowd be? During pregame warmups and player intros, any mention of the word "Xavier" prompted a chorus of boos from the "neuterals" in the building. However, during the game itself, the crowd never really seemed to get behind State as much as simply boo X. During X's run in the second half, the Xavier contingent was definitely the more vocal.
How much can Xavier get out of Matt Stainbrook? Turns out quite a bit. Stainbrook was far and away the best Xavier player on the floor tonight, pacing the team with 19 points and 9 rebounds, despite the game devolving somewhat underneath the rim. Stanbrook's supporting cast left a bit to be desired, but Stainbrook himself was solid.
Who can handle TJ Warren? Justin Martin did an excellent job on Warren in the first half and, had Warren not been let off the hook a bit by a pair of debatable block/charge calls going his way, would probably had an easier time with him in the second half. As it was, Martin simply ran out of gas and X had no one else who could match up with Warren, who scored a game high 25 points, 16 of which came in the second half.
That does it for our game coverage this year, but we hope you will stick with Banners throughout the NCAA tournament, as we bring you coverage of every matchup in the field.