Xavier junior guard Trevon Bluiett struggled through the first half of the Musketeers’ first-round NCAA Tournament game against the Maryland Terrapins at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida, but he picked it up in a big way when the team took the court for the final 20 minutes of play.
Bluiett buried six of his last seven shots, including five three-pointers, on his way to a game-high 21 points, which led the 11th-seeded Musketeers (22-13) to a 76-65 upset victory over the Terrapins (24-9) and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Once I get a couple to go in, then you get a little rhythm going, and then, everything starts to fall in, and everything you shoot just feels good,” Bluiett said.
“Honestly, I felt like the first half just kind of felt a little sped up. Probably just kind of excited to be out there in tournament time. My mentality never wavered. It was just, still be there for my team, make the right plays, and once I just settled down a little bit, my team kept instilling that confidence in me to score the ball, so I just tried to read the defense, and it all turned out well.”
Bluiett led the way for the Musketeers despite having just three points at halftime, where Maryland held a 36-35 edge after a late run, and that had a similar look to his performance in Xavier’s upset of Butler in the Big East Conference Tournament at Madison Square Garden last week.
However, in Xavier’s last two wins, Bluiett has scored 35 second-half points.
“Coach harps about winning four-minute wars,” Bluiett said. “We don't necessarily try to worry about the game. We worry about the four-minute wars in-between TV time-outs. So we just stay poised and composed, and we just knew we weren't going to get it back all at once.
“I think the team did a good job of listening to that and going out there and doing it.”
Xavier coach Chris Mack added, “We just have to sort of compartmentalize the game, worry about the next four-minute war. Can we win that one? Can we come back from the next TV time-out having won that war 5-2? As Tre said, we're not going to win it all back at once. We hit some shots, and our guys played looser in the second half.”
Although Bluiett took over the game offensively, along with reserve forward Sean O’Mara, who scored 18 points in 21 minutes off the bench, it was the effort on the defensive end of the floor that put the Musketeers into the second round.
The Musketeers forced 11 turnovers, limited the Terrapins to 40.7 percent shooting from the floor and a seven-of-27 showing from beyond the arc. Additionally, Xavier collected eight steals in the win over Maryland.
“When we really have good possessions on the defensive end, it translates to the offensive end,” Bluiett said. “We try to emphasize putting those together back to back, and I think we did a good job just staying focused on the defensive end, and it just all translates offensively.”