By: Paul Fritschner ~Staff Writer~
There was a warm feeling within the Musketeer faithful in New York City last week. Not only were the days warm and sunny, but the basketball team was also gunning for their first Big East Tournament championship. Xavier looked to take the trophy back to Cincinnati as the capstone to their best regular-season conference performance since joining the Big East. Entering as the No. 2 seed, and having beaten every team in the Big East at least once, Xavier felt confident about their chances to bring home some hardware before strapping down for the NCAA Tournament.
After defeating St. John’s in the first round Wednesday night, the Marquette Golden Eagles earned a match-up with the No. 5 Musketeers. Xavier, backed by a large contingent of fans at Madison Square Garden, stormed out of the gates to an early 11-2 lead and never looked back. Xavier had not lost the opening game of either of their first two Big East tournaments, and they showed no signs of this trend discontinuing.
Shot after shot fell through the net, and a 13-0 run late in the first half widened the already-plentiful gap. It was 46-30 at halftime, and the Musketeers came out of the halftime break as strong as they entered it.
The lead was 23 at one point before the Golden Eagles eventually made the margin somewhat respectable, and the Musketeers moved into the tournament semifinal with a 90-72 victory. Five Xavier players scored in doublefigures, with Trevon Bluiett leading the way with 24.
It was now on to Seton Hall, who had beaten Creighton in a quarterfinal matchup, and to whom the Musketeers had just lost less than two weeks prior.
Sports are perplexing, mindboggling events in which consistency often directly correlates with success. One night the basket may look as big as a hula-hoop and the next it might be smaller than a cup on a golf green. In a classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Xavier lost all momentum from the previous night, and struggled mightily against the Pirates of Seton Hall.
Edmond Sumner’s 21 points were not enough, as turnovers and missed opportunities plagued the Musketeers all night long. Myles Davis alone had seven turnovers in the first half, uncharacteristic of his usual style of play. As the Musketeers attempted to rally from a double-digit deficit in the final minutes, one crazy sequence was a microcosm of the entire game: Xavier pressed, turned over the Pirates in the backcourt, turned the ball back over, stole it from the Pirates, turned it over again, and were forced to foul; all the while watching 12 valuable seconds tick off the clock.
Xavier’s Big East Tournament ended in a disappointing 87-83 loss to Seton Hall, who went on to defeat Villanova in a thrilling championship game Saturday night.
It is now on to the NCAA Tournament, where the Musketeers will look to plow through what is possibly the toughest region in the field. The quest gets underway at roughly 9:20 p.m. Friday night on on TNT.