Muskies defy expectations with Elite 8 run

By: Kyle Tooley ~Sports Editor~

Photo courtesy of | Junior J.P. Macura crouches on the floor of SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Saturday after the Elite 8 loss to Gonzaga.

From the moment the men’s basketball team was announced as the last entry into the 2017 NCAA Tournament, very few people offered it a chance. Three wins and an Elite 8 appearance later, critics across the nation are wondering what magic sparked the Musketeers’ deep tournament run.

Xavier fell in the Elite 8 to the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday, marking the third time in school history that the team had played that late into March. The Musketeers became the second school in tournament history to defeat a 6-seed, a 3-seed and a 2-seed en route to the Elite 8, having dismantled the Maryland Terrapins and Florida State Seminoles while narrowly escaping the Arizona Wildcats in the process.

The game against Gonzaga saw Xavier playing from behind from the very beginning. The Musketeers were staring a 10-point deficit in the face heading into halftime, only to see that hole grow to 24 by game’s end. Gonzaga’s red-hot scoring, which included 47 percent from the field and 50 percent from distance, was too powerful to overcome, especially with the Musketeers making only two of their 16 three-point attempts.

Junior Trevon Bluiett led the charge during March for the Musketeers, acting as the tournament leader in points scored through the first three games. He was aided by junior Sean O’Mara, who played “his best basketball in a Xavier uniform,” according to head coach Chris Mack.

Junior JP Macura also played a high level of basketball, joining Bluiett on the all-West Region team after the game against Gonzaga. He posted 14 points, seven boards and five assists against Arizona in what was perhaps the most complete game of his career.

After senior Myles Davis announced he was leaving the team and redshirt sophomore Edmond Sumner was lost for the year with a torn ACL, Xavier was counted out by the majority of the nation. A six-game losing streak during the month of February pushed Xavier into a tailspin heading into March, which is usually not a place a team wants to be in at that point in the season. Xavier fans have learned, however, to never count out the Musketeers.

“The two teams that went the deepest in the NCAA Tournament during my four years here haven’t been the highest touted or highest ranked teams during the regular season,” senior Grayson Moore said. “The Musketeers like to fly under the radar.”

Though Xavier is still looking for its first Final Four appearance, the Elite 8 birth put it into some illustrious company. Only nine schools have more Elite 8 appearances than the Musketeers since 2004, which doesn’t include Syracuse, UCLA or Indiana.