ORLANDO, Fla. — Just two weeks removed from a six-game losing streak, Xavier is back in a big way. The 11th-seeded Musketeers showed it Thursday night, knocking off sixth-seeded Maryland with a 76-65 upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Amway Center.
Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett had three three-pointers during a 14-0 run that broke open a close game midway through the second half, and he finished with a game-high 21 points. Xavier advanced to the second round for the third year in a row.
“We kept working. We kept battling. We knew we had a lot at stake,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said of his team’s persistence in first rallying to make the tournament, then its first-round performance. “I’m proud of these guys and happy for them they’re able to play with a little bit of freedom in the NCAA Tournament that we didn’t feel during that stretch.”
Xavier advances to play Saturday against the winner of Thursday’s late game between third-seeded Florida State and 14th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast.
After losing point guard Edmond Sumner to an ACL tear in late January, the Muskateers lost six straight as they battled other injuries and adjusted to freshman Quentin Goodin at the point. Goodin stepped up with nine assists to go with nine points Thursday, helping a defensive effort that limited Maryland guard Melo Trimble to 13 points and just 1-for-9 shooting beyond the arc.
“[We needed] just to keep our foot on the gas no matter what the score says, just know what we’re capable of and take care of the ball on offense,” said Xavier’s Sean O’Mara, who had a career-high 18 points off the bench. “As long as we get a good look every possession, I feel like we’re going to have a pretty good run.”
Bluiett, who went 1-for-8 in the first half, caught fire in the second half. He scored Xavier’s first five points and then took the game over. Maryland led 50-47 midway through the second half when Bluiett hit three threes during the game-changing run that put the Musketeers up 61-50.
Maryland would not get closer than six points the rest of the way. Kevin Huerter led the Terrapins with 19 points and five assists.
“I thought the better team won tonight, the team that played better,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. “Xavier was tremendous the second half. Bluiett got going. I think they missed one shot in the second half.”