Because of injuries and a mid-season departure, the Xavier Musketeers are far from a complete team in terms of depth, but the struggles have given those on the roster opportunities to step up and take on leadership roles.
And that is exactly what happened for the 11th-seeded Musketeers (22-13) on Thursday night, as junior forward Sean O’Mara came off the bench to score 18 points in 21 minutes on the way to a 76-65 victory over the sixth-seeded Maryland Terrapins in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Amway Arena in Orlando.
“We got the four-minute wars that we're always focusing on,” O’Mara said. “Obviously, we kind of went through one of them. 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.
“As long as we get a good look every possession, I feel like we're going to have a pretty good run. I feel like our defense is solid, as long as we're working together and communicating. To be able to do that is just what we need to do to win.”
The Musketeers got 18 points from the bench combination of O’Mara, RaShid Gaston and Kaiser Gates in the first half, and the only three reserves that played for Xavier against Maryland totaled 30 markers for the game.
Xavier outscored Maryland, 30-13, in bench points.
“It's huge,” O’Mara said of Xavier’s bench production. “Tre alluded to just getting a rhythm, and I think I got that in the first half, and to be able to have Kaiser come in off the bench too and hit some threes, especially in the second and in the first, he played a great game, too. Just having guys come in like that and help us, especially offensively, it's awesome. It's a huge benefit we have with this team.”
A six-game losing streak sent Xavier into the Big East Tournament reeling, but the Musketeers rebounded with a double-digit win over DePaul, and then, knocked off the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Butler, before dropping a three-point decision to Creighton.
And yet, through it all, the Musketeers are one victory away from their sixth trip to the Sweet 16.
“Confidence-wise, it's obviously nice, but in the end, I've had confidence in my teammates and confidence in my coaches, and my coaches have had confidence in me,” O’Mara said. “Just to be able to see it come to light in this game, especially how big it was, was just a great feeling, and hopefully I can keep it rolling for our team.”