Musketeers march on to Sweet 16

By: Brent Raines ~Staff Writer~

After a two-year hiatus, the Xavier men’s basketball team is back in the Sweet Sixteen.
Wins against 11-seed Ole Miss and 14-seed Georgia State in Jacksonville, Fla., allow the Musketeers to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, where they will face an Arizona team led by a familiar face — former Xavier coach Sean Miller.

Xavier rushed past Ole Miss in the round of 64 with a 76-57 win, just 44 hours after the Rebels had to come back from a 17 point deficit against BYU in one of the Tournament’s First Four games. Senior center Matt Stainbrook led the Muskies with 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Back on the court two days later, Xavier shattered the glass slipper of this year’s Cinderella team, the 14-seed Georgia State Panthers.

The Muskies never trailed, as a pair of free throws by sophomore forward Jalen Reynolds gave Xavier an early 17-6 lead just over seven minutes into the game. However, Xavier’s advantage would be whittled down to just a 32-28 halftime lead.

The second half got off to a slow start for Xavier. After junior forward Markus Crider’s lay-up tied the game at 38 with 15:07 remaining, the Muskies went on a quick seven-point run to take the lead for good. Georgia State would never get back within one possession.
Reynolds led the Musketeers with 21 points (8-9 from the field) and six rebounds.

The redshirt sophomore forward’s efficient scoring was indicative of the entire team’s efforts, as the Musketeers’ 67.6 shooting percentage for the game was the third-highest by a team in the NCAA Tournament over the last 15 years.

The Ron Hunter-coached Panthers had captured America’s heart after their opening-round win against the heavily-favored
The Xavier bench begins to celebrate as the clock approaches 0.0 and the team inches closer to the Sweet 16.Baylor Bears. Trailing by 12 with two-and-a-half minutes left, the Panthers mounted a furious comeback capped off by a long three from junior guard R.J. Hunter, the coach’s son, with just 2.7 seconds left.

Head coach Ron Hunter had ruptured his Achilles celebrating the Panther’s Sun Belt championship a week earlier and jubilation from his son’s game-winning three ended up knocking him off of his stool and cracking his cast.

Georgia State featured former Louisville guard Kevin Ware, who is known for his horrific leg injury in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

Much like their third-round game against Georgia State, Xavier’s seventh appearance in the Sweet Sixteen and the third under coach Chris Mack is not bereft of storylines.

Miller, Mack’s predecessor, led the Muskies to the Sweet Sixteen in his final two seasons at the school, guiding the school to its second appearance in the Elite Eight in 2008.

Miller’s 120 wins at Xavier are the fourth most wins of any coach. Mack passed him earlier this year and now has 134.

The game against Miller and the two-seed Arizona Wildcats will tip at approximately 10:17 p.m. March 26.

The game will air on TBS and will be played at the Staples Center in Los Angeles home of the Lakers.