March 23, 2012
It's Baylor, baby!
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
This time, there would be no stirring comeback victory for Xavier.
But boy did the Musketeers try to pull off the upset in Atlanta.
After rallying to win games they trailed by as much as 10 and 15 points earlier in the tournament, Xavier erased an 18-point Baylor lead and took Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup down to the wire — pulling within three with 22 seconds to go — before eventually falling 75-70.
Perhaps Baylor’s garish neon uniforms blinded the Musketeers early on — or maybe the thought of seeing mighty Kentucky in the next round?
Baylor looked unbeatable early, starting the game on a 22-6 run, scoring from all over the court while smothering Xavier at the other end. But the game was far from over and Xavier reminded everybody why it has reached the Elite Eight four of the past five years.
After Xavier’s Kenny Frease was flagrant fouled, the team rallied to cut the big deficit in half.
Suddenly Baylor didn’t look considerably bigger, stronger and more athletic anymore and Xavier no longer looked intimidated.
Using a big edge at the free throw line, Xavier overcame uncharacteristically poor shooting — the team was hitting 48% of its three-point attempts coming in, third-best in the tournament, but nailed just 3-of-15 on Friday and 0-of-8 to start the game - to stick around.
Despite not scoring for over four minutes late in the second half, the Musketeers rallied again, getting within three in the dying seconds before Burlington’s Brady Heslip hit four clutch free throws to clinch the win and a potential date with top-ranked Kentucky for No. 3 seeded Baylor, now 30-7.
Quincy Acy led the way with 20 points and 15 rebounds, Pierre Jackson added 15, Perry Jones III had 14 and Heslip just 11, after nailing nine three-pointers in the previous game.
Frease had 18 for Xavier, Tu Holloway had 22 and Mark Lyons 16.
Rebounding had been a concern coming in for the Bears, but its massive frontline did work – led by Acy, the uber-athletic senior.
TAR HEELS ADVANCE
Most people expected mighty North Carolina to struggle a bit minus star point guard Kendall Marshall. But few saw this coming.
Unheralded Ohio, a No. 13 seed, gave the top-seeded, fat cat Tar Heels all they could handle and then some before fading late in a 73-65 overtime lost.
Ohio started just 4-for-22 for the field and 1-for-7 from three, but eventually found the range, going 11-for-25 from deep from there to give Roy Williams’ squad a substantial scare.
Marshall is the straw that stirs the drink and makes everything work for North Carolina and he was missed, particularly by superstar small forward Harrison Barnes, who was horrific at times.
Barnes shot just 3-for-16 and committed five turnovers, but at least scored five of his 12 points in overtime, to salvage the game and, perhaps, his plummeting draft stock
Ohio was only the seventh team seeded 13 or lower to make it this far at the tourney, but did not look out of place.
After Reggie Bullock hit a huge three with 35 seconds remaining to open up a two-point lead for the Tar Heels, Walter Offut, who had 26 points, hit a driving layup and was fouled.
However, Offut missed his free throw — Ohio’s only miss from the stripe on the night — giving Barnes another chance to screw up.
The Bobcats missed all six shot attempts in overtime though, allowing the Tar Heels to escape.
Marshall, who has a cast on his injured wrist, remains doubtful for Sunday’s Elite Eight game.
Tyler Zeller was a force for North Carolina, scoring 20 points and hauling in 22 rebounds for his 32-5 squad.
Carolina could have won in a laugher had it played smarter — feeding Zeller, John Henson and James McAdoo inside more, instead of settling for long jumpers.Even Williams blasted his charges in a halftime interview for its poor decision-making.
North Carolina will next meet either Kansas or North Carolina State, who played late Friday.