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March Madness: No. 11 Xavier reaches Sweet 16 with upset of No. 3 Florida State

Kaiser Gates, left, and Trevon Bluiett of

Kaiser Gates, left, and Trevon Bluiett of Xavier celebrate their 91-66 over Florida State to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Credit: Getty Images / Rob Carr

ORLANDO, Fla. — If anyone could relate to third-seeded Florida State, utterly disconsolate after being sent home Saturday night in a 91-66 second-round drubbing, it would be 11th-seeded Xavier, which found the perfect way to move on from last year’s early exit in advancing resoundingly to the Sweet 16.

“That was the worst locker room that I’d ever been in,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said of last year’s second-round loss as a No. 2 seed to 7th-seeded Wisconsin. “We had a special year, and it ended quite suddenly. I think our guys that were a part of that team really remember that. I think there’s some desperation we play with because of that feeling.”

Xavier (23-13) pulled off its second upset in three days, having dispatched sixth-seeded Maryland on Thursday night. But this was dominant — the Musketeers went 11-for-17 on three-pointers while holding FSU (26-9) to 4-for-21 beyond the arc.

“Everything went wrong,” FSU freshman Jonathan Isaac, a potential top-five pick in the NBA Draft, said in a quiet locker room after the game. “We were just a step behind on all their schemes and their counters . . . They did their job, did what they do and we just weren’t on it. It’s devastating for me. I can’t even imagine how it is for guys like [seniors Michael] Ojo and Quez [Smith]. This is their last rodeo.”

Xavier rides on, thanks to players such as Trevon Bluiett, who scored 29 points to give him 50 in two games this tournament. He scored 39 of those 50 in the second half of the first two games. The Musketeers led by 10 with 14 minutes left, and FSU had three chances to cut the lead to single digits. Instead, Xavier broke the game open with an 11-0 run for a 66-45 lead.

“Like we’ve been preaching all year, we attack and finish,” Bluiett said. “We definitely wanted to make it out of this round, but I don’t think necessarily too many people were thinking about last year.”

That sting now belongs to FSU, which had let 14th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast linger Thursday before pulling out a six-point win. Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said there seemed to be little his team could do to contain Xavier’s strong play.

“They got into that magic level, that emotional frame of mind you have to be in that allows you to be at that peak and play something even better than your normally do,” Hamilton said. “I’m not disappointed. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish . . . You’re always going to have a game where you’re not at your best and a team’s at their best. It’s hard sometimes to overcome that.”

FSU has only two seniors but could lose Isaac and sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon (20 points) as early-entry candidates for the NBA Draft. Their 25-point loss was their most lopsided in the NCAA Tournament since falling to Kentucky the same margin in 1993. A top-four seed hasn’t lost on the opening weekend of the tournament by that much since third-seeded Creighton lost 85-55 to sixth-seeded Baylor in 2014.

Xavier advances to their fourth Sweet 16 under Mack — they’ve now made it with seeds of 6, 10, 6 and 11, thriving in an underdog role. Two weeks ago, the Musketeers had lost six in a row after losing their starting point guard, but they’re back on track and now headed to San Jose.

“I think having a chip-on-your-shoulder mentality usually helps in sports and competitive situations,” Mack said. “So if it’s working, count us as an 11 seed.”

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