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NCAA Tournament: Xavier latest No. 1 seed to be eliminated

Trent Forrest #3 of the Florida State Seminoles

Trent Forrest #3 of the Florida State Seminoles shoots a layup over Paul Scruggs #1 of the Xavier Musketeers during the second round of the 2018 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. Credit: Getty Images / Andy Lyons

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Cinderella. That’s the fairy tale everyone invokes when they talk about the NCAA Tournament. Unknown girl, a bit unpolished, makes it to the dance with a little help from a fairy godmother and some glass slippers.

But after Xavier’s stunning loss to Florida State on Sunday, maybe people should start talking about Jack and the Beanstalk instead.

After all, Cinderellas pretty much have been a dime a dozen — ESPN says there isn’t a perfect bracket left — but with some unexpected Sweet 16 matchups on the horizon, the focus should be turning to all the giants that are falling.

In a tournament in which top seeds are getting eliminated faster than a vegetarian in a hot dog-eating contest, Sunday was an especially shocking night at Bridgestone Arena. No. 2 Cincinnati collapsed against Nevada and No. 1 Xavier followed suit, losing to No. 9 Florida State, 75-70, after leading by 12 in the second half.

(It was a really bad day for the Cincinnati region.)

“It’s almost like a revolution,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “What happens is you start categorizing people by the reputation that their players get going into college. But in reality, kids are playing basketball all over the country and teams are getting better . . . I really don’t think at this level that you can really call them as much upsets as it’s just what they call March Madness.

“I can’t say we were much better than Xavier, but we were much better than Xavier in the last 2 1⁄2 minutes of the game. Sometimes when the games are close, that’s all that’s important.”

PJ Savoy hit a left-wing three-pointer with 1:49 left to put Florida State up 71-70 and sank two free throws 40 seconds later. Xavier’s Kerem Kanter shot an air ball with seven seconds left, and Florida State’s CJ Walker hit two foul shots to ice the game.

“I did hesitate just to see what the defender was going to do,” Savoy said of his three. “I saw he backed up and let it fly.”

Trent Forrest’s three-point play with 4:21 left drew the Seminoles within 66-64, but Kanter’s layup created a sliver of breathing room. Mfiondu Mabengele’s putback again made it a one-possession game, and another putback tied the score at 68, capping an 11-3 run. Xavier’s Paul Scruggs was fouled on a drive with 1:49 left and hit both of his free throws before Savoy made his game-winning bucket.

Braian Angola scored 16 points and Savoy had 13 for Florida State (22-11), which will play No. 4 Gonzaga in Los Angeles. J.P. Macura had 17 for Xavier (29-6).

Xavier missed nine of its 18 free throws in the second half and committed 11 turnovers that produced 13 points.

In many ways, this game was a mirror image of last year, when the then-underdog Musketeers stunned third-seeded Florida State in a 25-point victory.

“The turnovers on our part were caused by a tremendous amount of pressure by Florida State,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “It was tough for our group, but a year ago, it was tough for them.”

Said Hamilton, “I think that the challenge that we faced last year was a time of learning and growing. I thought we gained wisdom from [them]. As a result of the wisdom we had last year, we’re more focused, and I thought that pulled us through today.”

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