The biggest Cinderella story of the NCAA tournament came to an end saturday evening in Jacksonville.
The 6-seeded Xavier Musketeers (23-13) moved on to the sweet 16 for the third time in six seasons after defeating the 14-seeded Georgia State Panthers (25-10) 75-67. Xavier was coming off a win over Ole Miss and GSU pulled the upset of the tournament by stunning Baylor on Thursday.
Similar to the game against Baylor, GSU found themselves in an early hole, down 15-4 but they would answer with a 13-4 run of their own. It was a four-point game at halftime and Xavier came out on fire in the second half. They shot 81 percent and only missed three shots in the half. They were led by Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis off their bench, who had 21 and 17 points with Reynolds’ mark being his career high.
“I didn’t even know we only missed three shots in the second half. That’s crazy,” sophomore Myles Davis, who was 5 for 8 from three-point range, said. “I think the best part about this team is that we are a very unselfish group of guys.”
The turning point came when the score was 38-38 early in the seconds half. After a bucket by Xavier, Myles Davis connected on a three and Reynolds followed with a dunk to go up 7. Xavier would lead the rest of the game.
R.J. Hunter, GSU’s star, had 20 points on 6-15 shooting, but there was not enough offense for the Panthers to keep up with Xavier.
“They almost had to play the perfect game. I thought our game plan was great. If they had just made a couple mistakes here and there, and they just didn’t. They couldn’t crack,” GSU coach Ron Hunter, said. “We just kept talking about if we could just get them to crack. Kudos to them. They beat us, we didn’t beat ourselves. We can walk away a little bit more proud because they beat us instead of us getting beat.”
GSU focused on stopping Xavier’s leading scorer Matt Stainbrook and successfully held him to 9 points, but Reynolds, along with the Musketeer’s three-point shooters, benefited from the extra attention he received. Xavier shot 54 percent from behind the arc and 67 percent from the floor.
R.J. now will decide wether to leave school a year early for the NBA draft, or come back and play one more year for his dad. He stated that he does not know where his next game will be played.
“I will tell you this, I will be 100 percent dad with this, and again, there are a lot of factors. I know it’s not a foregone conclusion. There are a lot of things that will go into this, ” said Ron Hunter. ” We will do this, though, and R.J. and I have agreed to this, we are going to make this decision fairly quickly for a lot of different reasons.”
Xavier will face 2-seeded Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet 16. This is Chris Mack’s sixth season as coach. It will be his third time in the Sweet 16. He noted that this is what his players and the fans of their program expect.
“These players next to me, they came to Xavier in large part because the expectation is to get to the tournament, is to advance, is to be relevant, is to be on the big stage,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to be awed in any sense of the imagination about being on a bigger stage.”
They have lost each of the other times during the Sweet 16. They will play an Arizona team that is 33-3 and coming off of a 15-point win over Ohio State. Arizona’s head coach, Sean Miller, was the head coach at Xavier from 2004 to 2009. The game will be played Thursday in Los Angeles.