No. 3 Xavier rallies to escape Kennesaw State upset bid

Trailing by 13 midway through the second half, third-seeded Xavier reeled off 15 straight points to rally for a 72-67 victory over 14th-seeded Kennesaw State in Midwest Regional first-round play Friday afternoon at Greensboro, N.C.

Colby Jones’ free throw with 18.3 seconds left snapped the game’s final tie, then Jack Nunge swatted Terrell Burden’s go-ahead layup off the board with seven seconds to go to save the Musketeers (26-9).

Fourth-year forward Jerome Hunter posted a career-high 24 points to pace Xavier while Souley Boum added 17, including four free throws in the final three seconds. Jones contributed 12 points while Nunge notched 10 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Xavier advanced to face either sixth-seeded Iowa State (19-13) or 11th-seeded Pittsburgh (23-11) on Sunday, but how exactly they survived was lost on head coach Sean Miller in the moments immediately after the game ended.

“I don’t know,” Miller told CBS courtside.

Burden and Chris Youngblood scored 14 points apiece while Spencer Rodgers added 10 for Kennesaw State (26-9), which nearly topped its first winning season and first NCAA Tournament appearance with a remarkable upset.

Kennesaw State went scoreless for 6 minutes, 12 seconds, but pulled into a 63-63 tie on Brandon Stroud’s pair of free throws with 3:46 remaining.

The Owls led at halftime and pushed the margin to 51-38 less than five minutes into the second half as they repeatedly attacked the rim for layups and tipins. Xavier wasn’t able to cut the margin to single digits until Jones’ baseline turnaround with 8:30 left to cut the deficit to 61-53.

When Boum hit a runner off the glass with 5:30 to play, Xavier owned a 13-0 run and pulled into a 61-61 tie. Nunge notched a free throw on the next possession to give the Musketeers their first lead since the 5:21 mark of the first half.

Xavier broke to a 7-0 lead in the first two minutes as Adam Kunkel drove for a layup, Hunter swished a turnaround in the lane and Boum cashed a 3-pointer. But Kennesaw State calmed down and heated up. When Youngblood and Simeon Cottle buried back-to-back 3-pointers, Kennesaw State forged a 23-23 tie and forced Xavier to take a timeout with 10:37 left in the half.

Rodgers slashed for a layup to give Kennesaw State its first lead at 25-23, which led to multiple momentum shifts the rest of the half. When Rodgers rattled home a rushed 27-footer to beat the shot clock, the Owls owned a 41-34 lead with 1:37 to go that became 43-36 by the half.

–Field Level Media

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