By: Adam Tortelli ~Staff Writer~
Xavier men’s basketball spent this past weekend in New York City for the Big East Tournament, falling to Villanova in the championship game.
The world-famous Madison Square Garden combined with one of the nation’s most talent-filled conferences made for an action-packed four days that drew attention from basketball enthusiasts coast-to-coast.
After running through the conference during regular season play, top-seeded Villanova continued its dominance on its way to a tournament championship.
In previous games in the Big Apple, the Wildcats throttled eight-seed Marquette in a Thursday matinee game before relying on a questionable foul call in the closing seconds to put away the red-hot Providence Friars. Villanova’s dominance led the team to an inevitable one-seed in the East region of the NCAA tournament.
Although second place is not anybody’s favorite position in which to end up, the Muskies pulled off upsets against Butler and Georgetown, both top-25 teams, in consecutive days.
The game against Butler gave viewers an overtime with behind clutch shooting and relentless leadership from senior point guard Dee Davis on both ends of the floor.
In a game of runs and increasingly chippy play by both teams, the well-balanced Musketeers prevailed, beating the Bulldogs for a second consecutive matchup.
Just 20 hours later, Xavier returned to the spotlight in the Garden to take on second-seeded Georgetown, which was coming off a tense victory against bottom-seeded Creighton.
An early Hoya lead quickly vanished as result of sharpshooting freshman forward Trevon Blueitt and guard JP Macura. The Muskie lead that once stood at 21 in the second half all but disappeared in the closing minutes as Xavier edged out its conference rivals 65-63.
In a combined team effort, the Musketeers forced Georgetown standout big man Josh Smith into foul trouble, sending him to the bench earlier than expected and ruining his rhythm for the remainder of the game.
The team’s defensive efforts also keyed in on D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (once a verbal commit to Xavier before signing to play at Georgetown). Despite going off for 26 points the night before, Smith-Rivera was held to three of nine shooting from the field and only 11 points overall.
Finally, Saturday night’s heavyweight showdown versus Villanova seemed too much for Xavier, losing 69-52. Sophomore forward Jalen Reynolds was rewarded for strong play in the tournament and was named to the all-tournament team.
In the coming weekend, Xavier Nation will be watching as the Musketeers take on the winner of the March 17 play-in game between Ole Miss and Brigham Young University.
Ole Miss eliminated a 17 point deficit at half time to make a comeback against the sharp shooting Cougars winning 94-90.
Ole Miss will head into the game against Xavier having played a tough and physical opening round game and the Musketeers will look to capitalize on extra rest.
Ole Miss has been playing in front of large crowds and intense media pressure all year long.
The Muskies will certainly have their hands full no matter who they play at 4:10 p.m. on March 19 in Jacksonville.
Barring an upset, Xavier is projected to meet the West Region’s three-seed Baylor Bears in the round of 32, who will be taking on Georgia State, who many believe will be this year’s low-seed surprise.
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