The Xavier Musketeers are moving on in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and they have guard Trevon Bluiett and forward Sean O’Mara to thank for it.
Already down a pair of players, one to injury and another to a mid-season departure, the Musketeers (22-13) were limited to an eight-man rotation, but Bluiett and O’Mara combined to score 39 points as Xavier, the No. 11 seed in the West Region, knocked off the Maryland Terrapins (24-9), 76-65, at Amway Arena in Orlando Thursday night.
“These two guys next to me, Sean played the best game he's ever played in a Xavier uniform, which to save it for this stage is awesome,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “I'm happy for him.
“Trevon played a heck of a second half in a Xavier uniform. That seems like the theme. So I talked to him a little bit after the game, and hopefully, we can get him going both halves. We're just fortunate to move on.”
On Saturday, the Musketeers will play the third-seeded Florida State Seminoles, who outlasted Florida Gulf Coast University in the second game of the night session in Orlando. The winner of that game will be moving onto next weekend’s Sweet 16, which is a far cry from where the Musketeers looked to be heading during the regular season.
At one point in mid-January, it seemed as though Xavier was lost on the court and would play its way out of NCAA Tournament contention.
But after losses to conference foes in Villanova, Butler and Creighton, whom hold Nos. 1, 4 and 6 seeds in other brackets of the NCAA Tournament, the Musketeers righted the ship and won five of their next six outings.
“I don't think that we were as beat up as people think,” Mack said. “We play in a hellacious league. A three-game road trip was sandwiched by two of the best teams in the country, and I'm just proud of our group for being able to stick with each other and not necessarily worry about outsiders' expectations or outsiders' perceptions of our so-called problems.”
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 despite all of the adversity, the Musketeers are one victory away from their sixth trip to the Sweet 16.
“We kept working,” Mack said. “We kept battling. We knew we had a lot at stake when we went up to DePaul, and we handled our business and did the same thing in the Big East Tournament. 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.”