Xavier bounces Mississippi State

No. 7 seed keeps rolling with 89-74 victory over second-seeded Bulldogs

Ncaa Regional

Atlanta

March 22, 2004|By Jeff Darlington | Jeff Darlington,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. - The ball left his hands, spinning flawlessly toward the hoop from three feet beyond half court. This wasn't a prayer. And it wasn't luck.

As Xavier guard Dedrick Finn's last-second shot slid through the net to end the first half of yesterday's 89-74 win against second-seeded Mississippi State, the truth behind the Musketeers' recent success became far easier to understand.

This is no longer simply good fortune. This is skill.

"That shot was going in," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. "They are on such a roll right now. If they play like they played [yesterday], they will win the national championship."

Sure, it's a bold statement - especially considering seventh-seeded Xavier (25-10) likely will face more intense defensive stands as they continue their dance. But based on yesterday's smoldering offense and precise shooting, the Musketeers certainly enter their first Sweet 16 since 1990 as one of the nation's hottest teams.

Xavier will play No. 3 seed Texas in the tournament's regional semifinals Friday. It has won 15 of its past 16 games - six of which came since the end of the regular season.

"No other team in the country deserves this as much as we do," senior guard Lionel Chalmers said. "We don't worry about ifs and buts. We settle our own destiny."

And it was Chalmers who decided the destiny of the Musketeers yesterday. Sparked by the guard, Xavier's offense made 69.2 percent of its shots during the second half, including seven of nine from three-point range.

Overall, Chalmers made 11 of 13 shots for 31 points, the most ever scored by a Musketeer during the NCAA tournament. For the senior, he credits his mentality of treating every game as if it could be his last.

"If this isn't my time, then I'm not going to have a time," Chalmers said. "When I'm done with the forty minutes, I don't want to walk away regretting anything."

Chalmers' performance was even more impressive when considering he didn't score a basket until nine minutes into the first half. He'd only taken one other shot until that point.

But eventually Chalmers heated up. And at nearly the same time, one of Mississippi State's most potent offensive threats cooled down.

Perhaps as important as their own offensive success, the Musketeers managed to shut down forward Lawrence Roberts. The Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, who was expected to give Xavier its biggest problems, was held to 11 points. He shot 4-for-11.

The performance was far different than the last time Roberts played against Xavier. In December, the SEC's leading scorer picked up 21 points to lead his team to a convincing 82-70 win.

"Everybody was so big on him going into this game," Xavier forward Anthony Myles said. "But I think I did a pretty good job of stopping him."

Following the matchup, while his teammates shook hands with the Musketeers' players, Roberts had already retreated to the locker room. But figuratively, he'd vanished from action even longer before that.

"Xavier is the best team we've played this season," Stansbury said. "They didn't let us gain the confidence we can normally play with to win."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

XAVIER-Cage 1-3 1-1 3, Doellman 5-10 1-1 13, Myles 3-7 2-4 8, Chalmers 11-13 5-6 31, Sato 4-10 2-2 12, Finn 6-9 5-9 22, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Christiansen 0-0 0-0 0, Cole 0-3 0-0 0, Caudle 0-0 0-0 0, Compton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-55 16-23 89.

MISSISSIPPI STATE-Roberts 4-11 2-4 11, Power 6-11 1-2 16, Vincent 4-10 3-6 11, Bowers 6-14 1-2 15, Frazier 3-13 3-4 12, Ervin 3-8 3-3 9, Slater 0-0 0-0 0, Stelmach 0-2 0-0 0, Campbell 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 26-72 13-21 74.

Half: Xavier 34-33. 3-point goals-Xavier 13-19 (Finn 5-7, Chalmers 4-4, Sato 2-3, Doellman 2-4, Cage 0-1), Mississippi State 9-26 (Power 3-6, Frazier 3-9, Bowers 2-7, Roberts 1-2, Ervin 0-1, Stelmach 0-1). Fouled out-Vincent. Rebounds-Xavier 38 (Myles 14), Mississippi State 40 (Vincent 12). Assists-Xavier 14 (Doellman, Finn 3), Mississippi State 14 (Bowers, Ervin 5). Total fouls-Xavier 14, Mississippi State 21. A-NA.

Regional highlights

Top performer: Xavier's Lionel Chalmers scored 31 points on 11-for-13 shooting from the field.

Big surprise: Seventh-seeded Xavier advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1990.

He said it: "Our guys came in so fired up. The Cincinnati guys hit a hot button with our guys in warmups." - Illinois coach Bruce Weber on the Bearcats' pre-game trash talking

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