This was the closest matchup yet in the Xavier Sweet 16 fan vote. Both of these teams come in with incredible stories to tell. The 2008 squad played in the immortal BJ Raymond game, where the unsung shooter gunned X into the Elite Eight with a win over Bob Huggins and West Virginia. The 2017 squad will be forever remembered for Malcolm Bernard’s gleeful sprint the length of the court with Arizona players stumbling in his wake. This is a game no one should have to lose.
Unlike so many games in 2020, this one started with the Xavier offenses firing on all cylinders. By the under 16, the score was already 10-10. Trevon Bluiett (19/4/4) was in his bag early as even vaunted defender Stanley Burrell (10/3/9) couldn’t keep up with one of the best pure scorers Xavier has ever seen. Bluiett scored nine early to push the 2017 squad out to a modest five point lead at 19-14. 2008 came right back behind a Burrell three and a bucket from CJ Anderson (16/8/3) to take a 21-19 lead.
The depth of 2008 was a problem for the newer squad all game long. Five of the elder Musketeers were in double figures and Josh Duncan (9/3/1) was only a point away. JP Macura (24/5/4) was unawed and scored 10 of his team’s next 14 to keep his team close before two Tyrique Jones (4/7/4) free throws put the 2017 squad back on top 39-38. Neither team led by more than five in the first half and 2008 hit the break with a one point, 42-41, advantage.
BJ Raymond (15/3/1) drilled a three to give 2008 a lead after Sean O’Mara (7/2/1) had put 2017 up out of the break. Macura and Derrick Brown (18/10/1) went back and forth before a Quentin Goodin (10/4/2) runner to put ‘17 back up four. A quick 10-4 run moments later meant that the ‘17 squad enjoyed the largest lead of the game at 63-56. Trevon Bluiett was in foul trouble after a debatable moving screen call, and his missing firepower let Raymond and Adrion Graves (3/0/0) bring 2008 back within two with 9:44 to go.
The ‘08 boys just could not get over the hump, though. Every small run they made was answered, usually by a red hot JP Macura. Macura was 8-12 from the floor for the game and was banging big shot after big shot to keep 2017 in the lead with Final Four approaching. When 2008 finally drew back even with three to play, Tre sent them right back down three with one of his patented quick release threes from the left corner.
The one thing that kept 2008 in the game the whole way was three point shooting. For the season the team was a deadly 39.1% behind the arc. (That would have been good for third in the nation in 2020.) In this game they stepped it up even another level, going 9-17 from deep. The main factor in that was a 5-9 night from BJ Raymond, a man who was at the tail end of one of the best shooting seasons in Xavier history. BJ’s EFG of 59.% and True Shooting 61% in 2008 were numbers generally associated with big men and have only been approached by one Xavier guard (Brad Redford, with a lower usage and shots rate) since.
So BJ Raymond was the last person the 2017 team likely wanted to see get the ball late. It was defensive lapses that plagued the historical 2017 team, and they did again here. After on offensive rebound from CJ Anderson, Raymond was open to shoot his team back into a lead they had been chasing for 18 minutes. Sean O’Mara tied it, but Derrick Brown found a jumper, and got fouled, to put his team back up three. With Bluiett having fouled out for the first time since the Dec 22nd game against Northern Iowa, it was a Kaiser Gates (3/6/0) three that went begging to tie. Drew Lavender (11/1/4) scored as the shot clock expired to push the lead to its final 88-83. After 12 years of waiting, the 2008 Xavier Musketeers were finally in the Final Four.