X Survives and Advances Past No. 14 Seed Kennesaw State
By Andy Mac Williams, 3/17/2023

Xavier avoided a rare 14-3 NCAA Tournament upset carving out a massive 2nd half comeback to post a 72-67 win over Kennesaw State Friday afternoon in a 1st Round game at Greensboro. Muskies survive and advance to play Pitt(ACC) in NCAA 2nd Round in Greensboro on Sunday at 12:10p.m. 11 Seed Pitt Panthers clobbered Big 12 Iowa State 59-41(6 Seed). Pitt edged Mississippi State Tuesday at a Dayton play-in game so they will be playing their 3rd NCAA game in 6 days. Before being too critical of XU's tight win over Kennesaw State we should remember X did win. It was a thriller and even though Muskies have experienced players. This was the initial NCAA game for everybody on the roster except Adam Kunkel who played 13 minutes in two games for Belmont as a freshman 4 years ago in 2019.

Sean Miller's immediate reaction to the bounce back "W": "We were lucky. We'll take it. I've been on the other side as well in this Tournament."

Xavier started quickly vs Kennesaw State (making their 1st ever NCAA start) leading 16-7 4:39 in. Too easy, too early! Ken State got their sea legs and smoked X with dribble drives and 3 pointers.

Jerome Hunter kept Muskies close with 13 early points but nobody else really stepped up. Owls led just 36-34 heading into the final 1st half segment and XU just spit the bit-missing shots-turning the ball over-not getting stops.

Ken St won the final war and led 43-36 at the half. Muskies were outscored 15-3 from "3"- outrebounded by a smaller team and had 0 offensive rebounds. X was outquicked and outworked a la the DePaul game in BET Quarterfinals.

The second half started badly also. Kennesaw built a quick 13 point lead at 51-38 4:30 into 2nd half then Xavier seemed to stabilize. Muskies mixed in zone "D" successfully. Teams traded baskets and XU treaded water until 61-49 Owls with 9:24 left and shots started to fall and defensive stops clicked in.

X embarked on a long 6 minute 15-0 run. K-St missed 10 straight shots seemed to hit the wall physically. X dominated the glass and everybody started to score. Muskies finally took the lead at 63-61 with 3:46 left.

The final war was mayhem. Colby Jones navigated 4 fouls. X missed 4 of 7 FTs after gaining the bonus early. Owls grabbed a 65-64 lead with 2:01 left on a rare 12 foot jumped by their BIG Demon Robinson. He never launches from outside the charge arc. X had every option covered so he shot late in the 30 second clock. Bad omen, I cursed in a close game.

Next possession though Adam Kunkel knocked down the shot of the game-a HUGE "3". CS had Souley Boum and Colby and Nunge covered and AK just stepped up. 677-65 X w+ 1:35 left. CS tied at 67-67 with 1:15 left. Colby made one of two FTs with 33 ticks left. 68-67 Muskies. X got a huge stop then Boum missed a wide open lay-up off a fastbreak.

Still 68-67 CS with the ball coming out of a time-out. 12 seconds left-Their PG Burden drove hard to the lane and launched a lay-up. Jack Nunge rotated over and blocked it acrobatically off the glass. Scramble for the loose ball. Colby knocked it free. Souley scooped up the rock and was fouled with 2.6 left-BALL GAME OVER!!

Boum swished 4 FTs. Xavier wins 72-67 and advances to Sunday.

Coach Miller was asked what he will emphasize to his players about the win:

"The last 9 minutes when we played great basketball. Jerome Hunter did something extraordinary. He scored a career high 24 points,8-8 FTs, 8-11 FGs. Adam Kunkel drilled that late "3".

After missing that lay-up Souley gathered himself like always and buried those 4 FTs. Until you really go through this tournament, you don't realize how fragile all this is. WE KNOW NOW!!

Our bench needs to be better. (XU outscored 19-1-two subs combined for just 24 minutes). We managed to overcome that today. We gotta do better come Sunday in that department.

X did well committing just 10 turnovers vs a very physical opponent. Good ball security helped make up for poor 3 point shooting (2-12). X won FT points 22-8 playing defense late without fouling. The zone looks helped cut off CS drives and contain XU foul trouble. Not a thing of beauty but SURVIVE and ADVANCE is OK by me!

Other BIG EAST Finals Friday-6 Seed Creighton took out 11 Seed NC State 72-63 2 Seed Marquette blitzed 15 Seed Vermont 78-61 and 4 Seed UConn knocked out Rick Pitino's 13 Seed Iona 87-63. BIG EAST 4-0 so far with 11 Seed Providence about to play 6 Seed Kentucky on CBS. Let's make it a 5-0 St Patrick's Day for BIG EAST!!!

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