Friday marked an all-time great day of the NCAA tournament.
Middle Tennessee State, a 15-seed, pulled off the tournament’s headliner upset with a 90-81 win over two-seed Michigan State. Later in the day, 13-seed Hawaii beat 4-seed California, 77-66, and 14-seed Stephen F. Austin beat three-seed West Virginia, 70-56. In addition, Iowa pulled off a buzzer-beating overtime win against Temple, 72-70, and then 11-seed Northern Iowa pulled off a miracle 75-72 win over six-seed Texas on a buzzer beater from beyond midcourt. St. Joseph’s capped the crazy night with a ridiculous 78-76 win over Cincinnati when Octavius Ellis’ dunk to tie was ruled to be after the buzzer.
Weber State had the firepower to be one of those small conference teams that pulled off an eye opening upset.
But Xavier seniors Remy Abell and James Farr weren’t about to let that happen to them.
In true Xavier fashion, the elder statesmen each took their game up a notch in the NCAA Tournament, dominating the first round matchup in their own ways as Xavier defeated Weber State, 71-53.
Abell held Weber State’s leading scorer Jeremy Senglin to seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. His smothering defense kept the Wildcats’ offense - a system designed to run through Senglin - from ever finding a rhythm.
“They weren't going to let Jeremy breathe,” Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. “I mean, they were everywhere he went. If his defender was a little late, they jumped somebody else out at him. They weren't going to let Jeremy beat them. And they did a great job on him. You've got to tip your hat to them and we had a hard time getting Jeremy free, and then we decided to throw the ball in the post a little bit more. I thought Joel did a real nice job in the post. But they would push us out a little bit with their pressure, I thought, in the first seven to eight minutes. We were catching the ball way too far from where we normally catch the ball.”
After seeing Weber State’s standout big man Joel Bolomboy throw down a vicious dunk in the first half, James Farr entered the game with a big chip on his shoulder. He completely dominated the paint, taking whatever position he wanted and reaping the benefits on the glass and in the post on offense. He finished with a double-double of 18 points and 15 rebounds, helping Xavier achieve a 20-10 advantage in points in the paint and a 14-5 edge in second chance points.
“Coming into the game we had tremendous respect for Weber State,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “You watch them play on film and it becomes apparent that their front court is a high major front court in terms of their size. Bolomboy is a guy who dealt with double teams all year. He shows athleticism in the first two minutes of the game with the baseline dunk. And our ability to really keep him in check for the most part, assert our will on the glass, to outrebound the team by NCAA Tournament game isn't easy to do.”
“Our seniors especially really stepped up. James Farr to have 15 rebounds in a tournament game. Like I said before, Remy's ability to chase defensively was tremendous. Very fortunate, excited to move on.”
For the rest of Xavier’s personnel, it was a very business-like win.
No other individual performances jumped out, but nearly everybody else played a positive role in the victory.
Kaiser Gates made both of his shot attempts in the first half, including a momentum-building three, and played great defense.
Jalen Reynolds bounced back from early foul trouble to finish with 12 points (6-9 FG) and five boards in 18 minutes. Plus, he threw down a massive dunk the second half to help boost the team’s energy.
JP Macura made two of his three shot attempts, including a three with seconds on the clock to give the Musketeers a 34-23 lead at halftime.
Trevon Bluiett made a couple of threes, and held his own on defense and on the glass while often battling against bigger post players.
After a slow start that included missed shots and turnovers, Myles Davis rallied with eight rebounds and six assists while playing a team-high 36 minutes, including many of them as the point guard.
Xavier’s defense limited the Wildcats to 0.83 points per possession, and 38.6 percent shooting from the field, while making some key adjustments on the fly.
“We trapped the post which we rarely do,” Mack said. “We had Tre and Kaiser jumping out on ball screens, they've switched all year. I was really proud for these guys being able to make the adjustments that we felt like we needed to make in order to win the game.”
The Musketeers played well, but certainly left room for improvement. Point guard Edmond Sumner is one guy they’re expecting more out of heading into the second round. He finished with two points (1-6 FG), six assists, two rebounds and three turnovers in 21 minutes, and just wasn’t the athletic mismatch that he’s proven to be already this season.
“I think it was his first NCAA tournament game,“ Xavier assistant coach Travis Steele said in a postgame interview on 700 WLW. “You don’t want to call it the deer in the headlights, but he had that look early. He had six assists and three turnovers, but he didn’t play at the level he’s capable of playing at. I think he knows that and is disappointed in his play. I think he’ll come back much, much stronger in the next game.”
Xavier will face Wisconsin in the round of 32 on Sunday at 8:40 pm on TNT. The Badgers beat Pittsburgh, 47-43, in a game that, quite frankly, probably left Xavier fans wondering, “that’s it?” The mid-level Big 10 team beat the mid-level ACC team into submission after an embarrassing display of offense that only GCL-South fans could appreciate.
Junior forward Nigel Hayes leads the Badgers’ attack with an average of 16.2 points per game to go with 5.8 rebounds. Point guard Bronson Koenig averages 13.1 points while shooting 39 percent from three. Both were major contributors on last year’s NCAA runner-up team.