March is the month for underdogs and Musketeers. For years, Xavier ticked both of those boxes. Now X has moved from being hunter to hunted.
The Muskies came out with an obvious game plan: feed Kerem Kanter against Florida State’s 7’4” center, Christ Koumadje. After a turnover from a questionable no-call the first time down, Kanter started taking Koumadje apart. He drew a foul and split the FT. He stuck a jumper, then hit a layup off of an offensive rebound. By the time Xavier took a 14-13 lead 7 minutes into the game, Kerem had scored or assisted all but 2 of Xavier’s points.
That 14-13 lead was actually the set up for a burst that Xavier went on from there. After FSU’s Terance Mann scored to make it 15-14, X ripped off the next 10, sparked by threes from Scruggernuts and Kaiser and buckets at the rim from JP and Tyrique. With Xavier poised to take control of the game, the officials instead put a hand on the wheel. JP, Tre, and Kerem all picked up their second fouls, forcing Xavier to play most of the last 8 minutes of the half without any of them on the floor.
From Tyrique’s dunk with 9:34 left in the half, Xavier went 9:20 without a field goal and found themselves down 32-29 in the waning moments of the half. Then lightning struck for Xavier. First JP drilled an incredibly long three off of an inbound play to tie the game. Florida State ran down, shot, and missed, and fouled Tre going for the board. Tre cashed out from the line, and Xavier went into the half up 34-32.
X came out of the half well, pushing the lead to 9 before the first media timeout. It was more of the same out of it, with Xavier getting a layup from JP to make it 46-35 and look in control. A five-point run by FSU was matched by a five-point from Xavier. It all looked like it was coming up Xavier.
Then, with 8:55 remaining, the refs struck again. JP Macura made a clean steal at the top of the 1-3-1 and got stuck with his fourth foul. Xavier was up 59-48 when that call was made. They were outscored 27-11 from that point. JP got back into the game after the final media timeout, but he was quickly fouled out on another questionable call, this one at the offensive end.
The officiating was a bitter pill to swallow, but Xavier did this to themselves. Trevon was conspicuous by his absence, going for 8/1/1 on 2-8/1-3/3-4 shooting with 5 turnovers. Xavier as a team shot 19-30 (63.3%) from the line; those 11 points left out there would have come in handy down the stretch. Their 18 turnovers against a team that doesn’t hawk the ball was tremendously disappointing.
There’s a lot to unpack from this loss, much of which will not get unpacked. For the second time in three years, the highest seed in program history leads to a crushing exit from a game Xavier had won.