Xavier men’s basketball coach Chris Mack knew for a long time that guard Trevon Bluiett had what it took to be special at the collegiate level, and several years later, the junior is proving the leader of the team to be right.
Over 34 games for the Musketeers (23-13) this season, Bluiett has averaged a team-best 18.5 points while shooting 43.7 percent from the field, 37.2 percent from three-point range and 75.6 percent from the free-throw line, all while pulling down 5.7 rebounds and handing out 2.1 assists every night.
“I've known Trevon since he was a freshman in high school, and he's been a terrific player at every step of the way, whether it's high school, whether it was AAU, whether he first stepped on the campus,” Mack said. “I think his game just continues to evolve. His confidence is at an all-time high.
“The way he played in the second half (against Maryland) was special. I've known it for a while. Like most players, they continue to get better, and Trevon is no different in that regard.”
Xavier Musketeers embrace journey to latest NCAA Tournament appearance
Already down a pair of players, one to injury and another to a mid-season departure, the Musketeers were limited to an eight-man rotation, but Bluiett and reserve forward Sean 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.
“When I was a freshman and we both came in, I couldn't guard him at all,” junior guard J.P. Macura said. “Coach Mack got frustrated with me because he would beat me baseline every time. I've done a little bit better job now. I can keep him in front of me a little bit, but he's a great player.”
Tyrique Jones added, “It started off, I think, a couple of practices in. I got switched on to Tre. He hit me with a crossover. I spun around, and he made the shot. I was like, ‘Damn, he's really good.’”
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 held 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.
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.
Despite all of the adversity, the Musketeers rose above it and cruised to a 91-66 win over third-seeded Florida State to advance to their sixth Sweet 16 appearance in the last 12 years.
“Just growing up, my dad has always kind of instilled confidence in me,” Bluiett said. “Pretty much ever since I started playing competitively, I've always thought I could play with the best of them. It's just all about going out and believing in yourself, having confidence in yourself, and not being scared to show your abilities.”