No. 10 Xavier rallies from 22-point deficit, beats ETSU
CINCINNATI — No. 10 Xavier trailed East Tennessee State by 22 points with 14:25 remaining in the game on Saturday.
The Musketeers were minus two bench players and with 10 minutes left, guard J.P. Macura left with a head injury.
The result was the largest comeback in Cintas Center history.
Trevon Bluiett hit a go-ahead step-back jumper with seven seconds left as the Musketeers staged a furious rally to defeat East Tennessee State, 68-66.
Previously, the largest comeback for Xavier at Cintas Center was a 66-63 victory over Purdue on Dec. 3, 2011, when the Musketeers rallied from a 19-point deficit over 10 minutes.
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “I felt like the better team today didn’t win. But, it’s a 40-minute game, and we didn’t quit.”
Xavier (10-1), which had much of the week off for semester exams, was sluggish throughout most of the game. Mack said afterwards that he regretted giving his players additional time off for exams.
“That’s why they’re here,” he said. “but it doesn’t make things any easier for us on Saturday afternoon.”
Freshman Naji Marshall had a career-high 15 points for Xavier. Reserve guards Paul Scruggs and Elias Harden didn’t play for breaking unspecified team rules.
Bluiett, who missed nine straight shots in one stretch, finished with 18 points, including the game winner. Mack tried to call a timeout on the play, but Bluiett made the shot.
Despite going jus 7-for-22 shooting on Saturday, Bluiett moved into seventh place on Xavier’s all-time scoring list.
“Anybody who has watched film on him, that’s his game, that little step-back is his pet move,” XU forward Sean O’Mara said. “Sew that one up. It was kind of over at that point.”
Desonta Bradford led ETSU with 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Peter Jurkin added 11 for the Buccaneers (6-4) who appeared dejected as they walked off the court.
“We had a 22-point lead in the second half. We have to bring that one home,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “Xavier is a great team ... but I thought we were the better team tonight. Our guys are disappointed. This one should hurt. We have to execute better down the stretch.”
During its four-game winning streak, Xavier outscored its opponents 55-28 during the first five minutes. It took a while for the Musketeers to find their footing in Saturday’s game. Xavier went 4 of 13 from the floor in the first five minutes but led 11-5.
East Tennessee State had all the energy early in Saturday’s game.
Bradford’s layup beat the shot clock to put the Buccaneers ahead 20-19. Bradford then buried a 3-pointer to put ETSU ahead 23-19. He scored 10 points in the half.
Xavier began the game 7 of 27 overall and 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
“I really don’t think we came out with bad energy, or anything like that,” O’Mara said. “We just didn’t drop a lot of shots. Part of that might be because we had a few extra days off this week. We just needed to focus on getting better offensive opportunities.”
The Buccaneers went on a 10-0 run to build a six-point lead before Marshall’s 3-pointer snapped a 0-for-7 shooting skid for the Musketeers.
ETSU led 39-27 at halftime, with Bluiett just 2 of 10 from the field. Xavier was 3 of 13 from 3-point range.
The Buccaneers kept rolling early in the second half. Bradford’s third 3-pointer gave ETSU a 48-29 lead.
Xavier trailed by 22 when Bo Hodges hit a 3-pointer at the 14:25 mark. But, Bluiett snapped a 0-for-9 streak with back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the Musketeers’ deficit to 14 and the comeback was on.
Bradford picked up his fourth foul with 9:37 left. Kerem Kanter converted the three-point play and Xavier was within 13.
The Musketeers had a 7-0 run to get within eight, but Bradford again hit a huge 3-pointer for ETSU.
Quentin Goodin’s three-point play for Xavier made it a two-possession game with 3:47 left. Kaiser Gates’ 3-pointer made it a three-point game, setting up the comeback.
“We followed our game plan,” Jurkin said. “In the end, they went to a 1-3-1 (zone) and the ball didn’t go in so easily. Xavier has a great team even when we were up by (22), we knew they’d play to the end.”
NOTES: Xavier has won 38 straight nonconference home games dating to the 2012 season. ... Entering Saturday’s game, the Musketeers ranked second in the Big East and 10th nationally in scoring offense (90.4 points per game). ... Xavier is the second top-10 opponent this season for ETSU, which also faced then-No. 7 Kentucky on Nov. 17. ... East Tennessee State has at least one made 3-pointer in 940 straight games, seventh longest streak in the nation.