Everyone take a deep breath. Slow that heart rate.
Did you miss this? That game was everything that March can be. Horrific, terrifying, heart attack inducing, panicking, and then, finally, elating. There were 32 minutes of pain, a storming comeback, then a minute of gut wrenching terror.
Maybe this is what this Xavier team is. To their credit, they didn’t give up. Down 13 with 9:56 to play, the Musketeers finally woke up. Jerome Hunter (24/5/0) got a three point play, then Colby Jones (12/6/4) scored, then Souley Boum (17/5/2), then Hunter, then two Boum free throws, a Boum jumper, then Jack Nunge (10/11/3) made a free throw and suddenly, improbably, five minutes after being down 13 to a 14 seed, Xavier led.
Joel is going to break the defense in that stretch down, but the long and short of it is that Souley Boum genuinely can’t stop anyone and Colby Jones rose to the challenge. Terrell Burden had carved Xavier apart, but he couldn’t find room to breathe with Jones on him. With his driving lanes cut off, Kennesaw State became a jump shooting team. Blessedly, they are not very good at that.
Xavier wasn’t either. The Musketeers shot 16.7% behind the arc. They split their two three point makes evenly between the two halves. That is not generally a recipe for success. When Adam Kunkel (8/4/6) buried his three with 1:44 to play to give Xavier the lead back after KSU had battled back, X would never trail again. It was nerve wracking from there, but X held on.
Jerome Hunter was a monster
When Xavier could get nothing going, their reborn man inside refused to accept the Musketeers apparent fate lying down. Big Rome just kept attacking Kennesaw State’s bigs. He finished 8-11 from the floor and 8-8 from the line in a game where no one else could cash them out. What a warrior’s effort.
Kennesaw State came to play
Amir Abdur-Rahim had his dudes ready to go. He assessed Xavier’s weakness (playing defense) and had his dudes attack that. Terrell Burden was a menace getting downhill and putting Xavier’s defense into rotation. The Owls relentlessly attacked the glass, tore apart Xavier’s zone, and put the Musketeers under pressure. X rode their luck.
The bench was really, really bad
Desmond Claude has been mostly undaunted this season, but today the stage looked too big for him. His line of 1/2/1 in 21 minutes was backstopped by four turnovers and defense far below his usual standards. Thankfully he’ll get another chance in two days. Cesare Edwards missed a rotation that led to a layup and managed one board in three really anonymous minutes.
It’s onward and upward
Colby Jones was good on defense and bad on offense. Souley Boum waited a long time to get going and had a very frank exchange of ideas with Adam Kunkel. Xavier alternated looking awful with looking brilliant. Sean Miller looked sad and disengaged, then (probably) masterminded a roaring comeback. We come back and do it all again Sunday. Rest your ulcers until then.