Jack Nunge blocked Terrell Burden’s driving attempt at a go-ahead layup in the final seconds, and Xavier dug out of a 13-point hole against surprising Kennesaw State to escape with a 72-67 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
Souley Boum hit four clinching free throws in the final 2.6 seconds for the third-seeded Musketeers (26-9), who ran off 15 unanswered points as part of a game-ending 24-6 run. That was enough to turn away the 14th-seeded Owls (26-9) in the program’s first-ever March Madness game.
Xavier moves on to face either Iowa State or Pittsburgh on Sunday in the Midwest Region.
Xavier led 68-67 when Burden — who’d been successful all day with dribble penetration — turned into the paint past Jerome Hunter and appeared to have a path to the rim. The 7-foot Nunge moved over and swatted the ball into the backboard.
Kennesaw State made just two baskets in the final 9:57 as its chances of a signature March moment slipped away painfully.
HUGE BLOCK FOR XAVIER 😱<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MarchMadness?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MarchMadness</a> <a href=”https://t.co/NMiIZitmlg”>pic.twitter.com/NMiIZitmlg</a>
Joey Hauser scored 17 points and No. 7 seed Michigan State clamped down defensively on No. 10 seed Southern California in the second half on Thursday for a 72-62 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament’s East Region.
Coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans (20-12) will face the winner of the Vermont-Marquette matchup on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16. Marquette coach Shaka Smart sat on press row for part of the second half to get a closer look at what could be his next opponent.
Smart watched as Michigan State ramped up its defensive intensity after halftime to muzzle the streaky Trojans (22-11), who were knocked out in the tournament’s first round for the second straight year.
Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins added 12 points apiece for Michigan State, which held USC to 34 per cent shooting in the second half. It felt like every possession was a challenge for the Trojans, who only stayed within range with some late 3-pointers and some atrocious free-throw shooting by Michigan State.
Michigan State, appearing in its 25th straight tournament under Izzo, will move on in what has been a unique and challenging season for the Spartans. The team became the face of a grief-stricken school after a gunman killed three students and injured five others in a campus shooting on Feb. 13.
Playing in Big Ten country, and backed by a crowd wearing even more green on St. Patrick’s Day, the Spartans took control in the second half.