For 30 minutes (and 4 seconds), Xavier’s defense didn’t show up at all. Kennesaw State - a mediocre offense at best - shot 25-49 from the floor and got pretty much whatever they wanted behind the irrepressible Terrell Burden. Favored by a dozen heading into the game, the Musketeers were down 13 when Burden scored yet another layup with 9:56 left on the clock.
Then the team that earned the three seed showed up in force. Sean Miller moved Colby Jones, who had struggled with foul trouble all day, onto Burden, having grown tired of watching him run right by Souley Boum. Jones forced a miss by Burden; man of the hour Jerome Hunter converted a three-point play to cut it to 10. Kennesaw State stepped on the out of bounds line; Colby scored to cut it to 8.
Kennesaw State called timeout to stop the bleeding. It didn’t. Jack Nunge blocked a shot, Souley Boum hit a runner, and suddenly it was 6. X forced a couple more stops, then Jerome Hunter tipped in his own miss to cut it to 4 with 6:30 to play. It was still all dry for Kennesaw State as their offense and Xavier’s defense both tightened up down the stretch. The freedom with which the Owls were flying when things were going well had abandoned them. Four straight from Souley tied the game.
From down 13 with 9:56 to play, the Muskies had gone on a 13-0 run in 4:24 to tie it up. A combined 2-4 from the line by Jack Nunge and Colby Jones completed the 15-0 run and put Xavier in the lead. Kennesaw battled back gamely, but the Muskies executed enough down the stretch to put the game away and advance.
With the season on the line, Xavier’s much-maligned defense answered the bell. After having no answers to anything the Owls did for half an hour, they stepped up to hold them to 2-15/0-3/2-3 shooting with 3 turnovers in the final 9:56 of the game. When you’re down 13, you’ve gotta step up on both ends of the floor. In finishing the game on a 24-6 run, X did just that.
I just want to use a quick paragraph to shout out the effort given by Kennesaw State. For 30 minutes, they gave Xavier all they wanted and more. The head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim encouraged the fans to keep their heads up after the game. They didn’t earn the win, but they definitely garnered the respect of the nation in the attempt.
On to the next.