ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—When Dedrick Finn’s shot from well beyond midcourt went through the basket, Mississippi State knew it was in trouble.
“He did that,” Bulldogs guard Timmy Bowers lamented, “and I said it’s going to be a long night.”
Finn’s buzzer beater gave Xavier a one-point halftime lead, and the seventh-seeded Musketeers went on to win 89-74 Sunday in an upset that sends them to the Atlanta Regional semifinals.
Lionel Chalmers scored a career-high 31 points and Finn added 22, helping Xavier (25-10) advance beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990. The Musketeers won opening-round games the past two years, only to go on to lose to Oklahoma and Maryland.
“If this is not my time, I’m not going to have a time,” said Chalmers, one of Xavier’s three starting seniors.
“I’ve been feeling good and just knocking it down. There’s really not too many things you can do to me out there when I feel like I can make shots.”
Xavier, which has won 15 of 16 after a 10-9 start, overcame a double-digit deficit for the second straight game and will face No. 3 seed Texas in the regional semifinals.
Chalmers made 11 of 13 shots, including all four of his 3-point attempts. Finn was 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, while Romain Sato—the Musketeers’ leading scorer during the regular season—finished with 12.
“There wasn’t much we could do against Chalmers,” Mississippi State’s Shane Power said.
“He made contested shots, NBA 3’s, whatever,” Bowers added. “He’s one of the best guards in the country. He may not get credit, but today he put his team on his back and carried them.”
Mississippi State (26-4), the No. 2 seed, shot 36 percent and lost control after building a 23-13 lead in the first 11 minutes. Xavier finished the half with a 21-10 run, with Chalmers scoring 12 in that stretch.
Power led the Southeastern Conference regular-season champions with 16 points. Bowers had 15 and SEC player of the year Lawrence Roberts was limited to 11 on 4-for-11 shooting.
“Whenever three players go 11-for-14 on 3-pointers and the team goes 13-for-19, it’s difficult to come back,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said, fending off a question about why Roberts wasn’t a factor.
“They made huge shots all day long,” the coach added.
Xavier’s late-season surge included a 20-point blowout of then top-ranked Saint Joseph’s, while Mississippi State earned its No. 2 seeding based on winning its first outright SEC regular season title in 41 years.
Sato was held to a season-low seven points in Xavier’s 82-70 regular-season loss to Mississippi State three months ago, and the 6-foot-5 guard scored only six in a December 2002 loss to the Bulldogs at Madison Square Garden.
A key element of Mississippi State’s game plan again was containing Sato. But in doing that, the Bulldogs were unable to keep up with the lightning-quick Chalmers, who repeatedly knifed his way through the defense to score or set up opportunities for teammates.
The 6-foot point guard was equally effective from the perimeter, finishing 6-of-7 from the field and making a pair of 3-pointers over taller defenders during the first-half run that got the Musketeers back into the game.
Finn’s buzzer beater put Xavier ahead 34-33 at the half and set the tone for the rest of the game.
The Musketeers returned from the locker room to build the lead with 10 on Justin Doellman’s 3-pointer with just under nine minutes to go. Six minutes later, Finn’s long 3—his fifth of the game—made it 75-63 and took the last bit of fight out of the Bulldogs.
“No other team deserves this like we do,” Chalmers said. “We’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through a lot in four years. It just feels real good.”