Xavier was in the driver's seat of Sunday night's second round NCAA tournament game late into the second half. Then, after a poor offensive spell, Wisconsin made a run to tie the game, and Bronson Koenig abruptly ended the Musketeers' season with a heavily-defended, buzzer-beating three from the corner to win the game, 66-63.
Due to a slow start and a consistent inability to finish shots, Xavier found itself in a close game where they had to make plays down the stretch to win. Instead, Koenig and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ propelled Wisconsin to victory. In addition to the game-winner, Koenig also tied the game with a deep three over Myles Davis with 14 seconds to play. He finished with 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting, including 6-of-12 from 3-point range. Happ added 18 points (7-10 FG) and seven boards.
Junior guard Zak Showalter drew a key charge on Xavier point guard Edmond Sumner during X's final possession when the game was tied 63-63 with four seconds left. The savvy defender jumped out in front of Sumner's dominant hand and took a dive, baiting the official into what appeared to be an iffy call on replay. That play setup Koenig's game-winner.
Jalen Reynolds' free throw with 5:42 to play gave Xavier an eight-point lead, 59-51, but the Musketeers followed that with two turnovers, three missed layups, a missed mid-range jumper, and a missed three over six of their next seven possessions. Wisconsin climbed back into the game with a 9-2 run during that stretch, which ultimately gave them the shot to win it at the end.
Xavier's two best shooters, Trevon Bluiett (15.3 ppg) and Myles Davis (10.9 ppg), combined to go 4-of-16 from the field with 12 points on Sunday night. In two NCAA tournament games, Bluiett averaged 8.5 points while shooting 33.3 percent, and Davis averaged 5.5 points while shooting 28.6 percent. Bluiett did a good job defensively on Wisconsin's leading scorer Nigel Hayes. Hayes came into the game averaging 16.2 points per game, but finished with six points on 2-of-10 shooting.
Sumner also struggled to finish around the rim in this game. After going 1-for-6 from the field with two points against Weber State in the first round, he was 4-for-13 with 11 points against Wisconsin. He nearly erased his bad game with a reverse layup that gave Xavier the lead, 63-60, with 31.2 seconds to play, but his third turnover of the game on the charge turned Sunday night into a tough learning experience for the youngster.
As a team, Xavier finished 5-of-16 (31.3%) from 3-point range, and 14-of-21 (66.7%) from the free throw line. The Musketeers averaged 0.91 points per possession, while Wisconsin averaged 0.96. The Badgers were 8-of-27 (29.6%) from 3-point range, and 8-of-13 (61.5%) from the charity stripe. Both teams scored 30 points in the paint, and six points in transition. Xavier outscored Wisconsin 11-10 in points off turnovers, 7-6 in second chance points, and 14-6 in bench points.
Reynolds had the most impressive performance of the night for the Musketeers. He threw down four second half dunks to bring his total to seven for the tournament, and finished 6-of-7 from the field with 13 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes.
Senior Remy Abell also laid it all on the line in his final game. He did a good job of chasing Koenig around after he got in a rhythm, and limiting his looks. Three of Koenig's threes were open shots against the zone, one was from 25-feet out over Davis on a switch, and he had Abell draped all over him on the final three that won the game. Abell also continued to play with confidence on offense. He was only 3-of-9 from the field, but he hit a pair of big threes and made all five of his free throws to finish with 13 points and two turnovers. His biggest shot of the game came at the three-minute mark of the first half when he buried a corner three to put the Musketeers in front for the first time, 27-25.
The effort was there for the Musketeers. They didn't play poorly. But, for a team that was dominant on offense at times during the season, missing as many good looks as they did brought an understandable sense of frustration to the players as well as the fans. They just didn't perform their best on the right night. Xavier's loss being a contribution to the growing narrative about the Big East's lack of success in the NCAA tournament, especially when the conference's teams are awarded top seeds, only adds to the frustration.
However, Wisconsin's one shining moment didn't put a damper on a brilliant overall season for the Musketeers. They jumped out to a school record 12-0 start, and their 26-4 regular season finish tied the best mark in school history. They pulled off a big road win at Michigan early in the season, 86-70, and then trounced through the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, including smashing Dayton 90-61 in the finals. They beat Cincinnati 65-55 in the Crosstown Shootout, and pulled off their first win over Villanova 90-83 at the Cintas Center while the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 in the country. They were the first team in the country to 20 and 25 wins, and reached the highest national ranking in school history, peaking at No. 5 multiple times in the AP and Coaches Polls. In total, they spent 14 consecutive weeks ranked in the top 10. Their two seed in the NCAA tournament was the best seed in program history.
Team 94 raised the bar for the basketball program and the national profile of the school.
Chris Mack and his staff will return most of the core from this year's team next season. And a giant chip has just been placed on their shoulders heading into offseason workouts.