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Farewell, Sean O’Mara

The big man was soft spoken and humble in his time at X, yet his imprint on the program is as massive as his presence was in the lane.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Sean O’Mara was a bit of a unicorn in this season’s senior class for Xavier. He did not walk in as a freshman with a ready made skill set that was going to net him playing time early in his career like JP Macura and Trevon Bluiett did. Nor did he get the chance to work out the kinks in his game in the Horizon League for three years like Kerem Kanter. Sean came to Xavier as a big bodied freshman with limited athleticism and trouble playing defense without fouling. He now leaves as a player Xavier fans grew to cherish and watched blossom into as potent of low post offensive threat as there was in the Big East last season. That alone should make you remember Sean O’Mara fondly. Forget the clinic he put on at Butler this year, or the virtuoso performance against Maryland in last season’s NCAA Tournament, Sean O’Mara had an incredible career because of the fact he embodied everything we want a Xavier Musketeer to be in terms of work ethic, unselfishness, and focus on the court. Sean was not going to take someone apart off the bounce like Ed Sumner, or stare down a defender and hit a three over him like JP or Tre, but there could be no doubt that when O’Mara matched up to someone in the post, the opponent was going to get out worked, out hustled, and beaten at every technical aspect of the game by the big man from Illinois.

In another era of Xavier basketball, O’Mara may have been option 1A on offense and the team’s go-to player whenever he touched the court. As it was, he entered school with Xavier trying to establish itself in the Big East and having a slew of talented bigs battling for playing time. Matt Stainbrook was lining up at the 5 when O’Mara was a freshman, another big presence in the lane who used his size to his utmost advantage and was able to facilitate offense, whether scoring or drawing and dishing, from the post. O’Mara sat and learned from the bespectacled behemoth, averaging just over 4 minutes per contest and having fewer games where he reached double digit minutes (3) than games when he did not play at all (11). Still, there were flashes of a talented but raw low post scorer, notably his 8 points in 10 minutes against a decent Alabama squad in early December. As a Sophomore, the two headed rebound devouring beast that was Jalmes Farrnolds saw O’Mara still mostly a spectator, as his minutes improved to just 7 a game, while his production ticked up as he became more comfortable. He cracked double digits in points for the only time in his first two seasons against Auburn, but only eclipsed his previous career high of 8 one other time all season. Still, with Farr and Reynolds gone, the stage was set for O’Mara to make his leap as a Junior.

O’Mara started his first 8 games as a Junior before ceding to RaShid Gaston in the lineup, but he was more of a constant than in previous seasons. His minutes nearly doubled and he began to have more of an effect on games. Even better, the foul trouble and ineffective free throw shooting that had plagued him before began to dissipate and O’Mara was able to become a player Xavier could count on in crunch time. That came to the fore in the post season as he poured in 10 huge points in a must win game against Butler at MSG to seal a tournament berth for X. Next up, he dismantled Maryland’s larger front line to the tune of 18/7/1 in 21 minutes with his dazzling array of footwork and ability to get his defender in the air and get to the line. More of the same was to come as he posted 11/5/3 against Florida State, while only attempting 2 field goals, and went for 8 and 4 against Arizona’s future NBA big man Lauri Markkanen, helping hold the Finn to 9 points on 3-9 shooting as Xavier shocked the Wildcats. Sean would settle into his role as a bench weapon as a Senior, posting 14 points off the bench against Kent State and future tournament darlings Marshall in the non-conference. In Big East play, he raised his game even further, posting 10/6/3 with 4 blocked shots in 20 minutes against Butler, putting up 12 points on 6 shots at home to Creighton, leading the way alongside Kerem Kanter in a total low post demolition of Butler on the road with 14/5/1 on 5 shots, and rounding out his Xavier career on Senior night in his only start of the season with 10 points against Providence.

The two lasting images that encapsulate what O’Mara meant to this program both came from the NCAA Tournament and could not have been more different in their emotional impact. The last we ever saw of Sean in a Xavier uniform was him trudging down the tunnel in defeat after the Florida State game before stopping alongside to literally pick up JP Macura, who had collapsed in tears on his way to the locker room. It spoke to the selflessness of the individual, not just the basketball player, that he was willing to put his own emotions and disappointment aside to be there for his friend and teammate. It was classic O’Mara: always the steady reliable force, always willing to be the helper, always doing right by his teammates. There is, however, a more iconic moment that perhaps captures his essence even better (and doesn’t make me as sad).

With the right to advance to the Elite Eight on the line and the game knotted at 71 points, Xavier had the ball with a minute left and a chance to get a vital basket to propel themselves past Arizona. Already O’Mara had been part of Xavier shutting down the offensive glass for the Wildcats over the previous 17 minutes, but no one in Arizona’s home white was expecting O’Mara to be the player Xavier looked to for a basket in the biggest possession of the season. Xavier ran a simple action to get Trevon Bluiett the ball at the top of the key coming off an O’Mara screen. All of Arizona’s defenders assumed Xavier’s star, who had hit big shot after big shot during their run, was about to hoist a three, but he looked into the paint where O’Mara had sealed the 7 foot Markkanen, expertly placing himself between the defender and the basket. Bluiett dumped it down to the big man and, through a swarm of defenders, Big Sean made the biggest bucket of his career, Xavier’s season, and likely bigger than any shot a Xavier player made over his 4 years. Arizona looked at Xavier and saw the star power and eye catching skill of guys like Bluiett and Macura, but they forgot about Sean and, as always, the big man was ready when called upon to do a job for X.