Xavier tops Texas to keep rolling, reach Elite Eight

Seventh seed prevails, 79-71, for 16th win in past 17 games, 1st regional final appearance

Ncaa Regional

Atlanta

March 27, 2004|By Chuck Culpepper | Chuck Culpepper,NEWSDAY

ATLANTA - At the end of a gnarly Xavier-Texas limp to the finish line during which neither could make a shot, a new college basketball reality sank in: The big-conference snobs got it wrong about the Atlantic 10.

The Atlantic 10 Conference, allegedly a Triple-A curiosity made of gutty little stories, will field a hefty one quarter of the 2004 Elite Eight, with Saint Joseph's drama joined by a seventh-seeded Xavier bunch whose generally scalding trip through March now includes the emphatic delivery of the Hawks' only defeat and the first trip in school history to the round of eight.

As a going-away gift in Xavier's 79-71 win in a regional semifinal at the Georgia Dome, in which the Musketeers somehow outrebounded meatier Texas, the big-conference coach blew gaskets all over the mid-court area in front of the scorer's table.

Because he did so in the immediate direction of official Ted Valentine, Texas coach Rick Barnes found himself exiting while muttering obscenities with 3.9 seconds remaining, costing his team any chance of a miracle finish.

"I know it hurt him a lot, walking to the locker room," Texas forward P.J. Tucker said of a coach who graced the 2003 Final Four.

It was Tucker's misfortune that fueled Barnes' ire. With 16 seconds left and Xavier leading 74-71, Texas dribbled down the floor hoping for a final possession that might improve on all the errant recent others.

Five other times in the final five minutes, the third-seeded Longhorns (25-8) came down with a chance to tie or lead, and five times they failed, with 6-foot-9 post man Jason Klotz repeatedly missing on his way to a 1-for-10 second half.

"We had a goal as freshmen to win a national championship," said Texas' Brandon Mouton, one of four seniors who played prominent roles for the Longhorns. "We pushed each other at practice every day to get better in order to reach that goal, but we came up short.

"I feel that Texas is going to be a great program for years to come."

Xavier, meanwhile, having scorched its way to the Sweet 16 with a 13-for-19 three-point shooting performance against Mississippi State, was on its way to shooting 8-for-25 this time, and would not make a field goal in the final 7:15.

Texas figured to get the ball to Brian Boddicker, who had managed three three-point shots in the frantic final minutes, including one that made it 72-71 with 17 seconds left.

Boddicker wasn't so sure. "I don't think Xavier's gonna let me get off another shot," he said later.

Sydmill Harris ended up flinging an awkward three-point try from the right side with nine seconds left that Tucker rebounded under the basket. Just as he got control, Xavier's Dedrick Finn appeared from behind, snatching the ball.

The whistle didn't blow, but Barnes did, even though Tucker later said that even though he got smacked, the call could have gone "either way" and, in the closing seconds, "you ain't getting that call unless it's too obvious."

Barnes lost it, then lost it again, and Xavier shot a parade of free throws - going 5-for-6 to reach the final score.

It extended Xavier's run from a 10-9 record, a last-place conference mark of 2-5 and booing on its home floor all the way to 16 wins in its past 17 games and a 26-10 record.

Romain Sato took over the scoring brunt from backcourt mate Lionel Chalmers, who still managed 14 to bring his three-game NCAA tournament total to 70.

Sato logged 27, including 14 of 17 from the line, while Xavier surprisingly outrebounded Texas 39-35, which prompted senior center Anthony Myles to say, "They underestimated us, and look what they got."

In truth, though, rebounds were about all Xavier had in the closing minutes as the runaway second half that pushed them past Louisville and Mississippi State failed to materialize.

After a taut early struggle, Sato's three-pointer from the corner provided a 53-50 lead with 13:14 left in the second half. Two thrilling fast breaks extended it to 57-50, but the rest was a two-team sputter of misses and rebounds and fouls.

"Just to have two teams from the Atlantic 10 shows how strong we are," Chalmers said, "and it shows that when we were in last place early in the year, that was the reason why."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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