Xavier rallies past fading Georgia to get to 2nd round with 73-61 win
WASHINGTON (AP)—Xavier took full advantage of a Georgia team that was, well, ‘Dawg tired.
Led by Derrick Brown’s 19 points and 11 rebounds, and super-sub Josh Duncan’s 20 points, No. 3-seeded Xavier erased a double-digit deficit against fading Georgia to win 73-61 Thursday in a first-round West Regional game.
Georgia’s players, who made a remarkable run to the Southeastern Conference tournament title by winning three games in about 30 hours, insisted they weren’t exhausted. Indeed, they put more of the blame on a significant discrepancy in free throws: Xavier went 27-for-33 from the line, while Georgia was 3-for-5.
But, as Xavier point guard Drew Lavender put it: “Fatigue finally caught them.”
The Musketeers (28-6) trailed by 11 in the second half but conjured up a 22-6 run to come back and tie the school record for victories in a season.
“You can’t help but think it was to our advantage, what they just went through,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “The longer the game went on, the more we were able to wear them down. And I think we all know part of that reason was the energy they had to use this past weekend.
In the end, Georgia (17-17) simply could not sustain the energy and effort it summoned during last week’s remarkable run to the SEC tournament title. The Bulldogs were 13-16 before the conference tourney, yet somehow won four games in as many days—including two in a single day!—to save coach Dennis Felton’s job and extend their season.
As Xavier turned up its defensive intensity down the stretch, Georgia’s do-everything guard Sundiata Gaines acknowledged, “I kind of felt our offense got stagnant. We weren’t moving and executing as well as we normally do.”
And so Xavier was able to take command and advance to a second-round game against No. 6-seeded Purdue, which beat No. 11 Baylor 90-79.
Led by Terrance Woodbury’s 16 points and Gaines’ 13 points, six assists, and constant hustle, Georgia began the afternoon displaying far more energy than could rightly have been expected.
With Xavier looking a bit uncertain for stretches, Georgia pulled out to a 35-26 halftime advantage. The lead grew to 43-32 with 16 minutes left after a baseline jumper by Woodbury, who let out a “Woooo!” yell that was answered by loud barks from his team’s fans.
And that, pretty much, was that for Georgia.
Xavier began making its move from—where else?—the foul line, with six straight points off free throws. The Musketeers’ tough D, meanwhile, held the Bulldogs scoreless for nearly 5 minutes.
Needless to say, the two teams had vastly differing views of the way the officiating went.
“To come down, and every other play you get a foul called on your team, it’s ridiculous from our standpoint,” Woodbury said. “I feel like we played as hard as we did, but they just got the calls. We didn’t get any calls, so the momentum can change like that, very much in their favor.”
Felton was a tad more diplomatic.
“The difference in the second half certainly ended up being the difference at the free-throw line,” the coach said. “Clearly that was the difference in the game.”
“Style of play has a lot to do with it,” he said.
Billy Humphrey’s two 3-pointers were Georgia’s only baskets during the game-swinging spurt by Xavier, which went ahead 52-49 on Dante Jackson’s 3-pointer, then 54-49 on Duncan’s bucket with about 6 minutes remaining.
Brown made it an eight-point edge for the favorites, at 59-51, a minute later with a three-point play. And while Georgia did keep things interesting, getting within 64-61 on Dave Bliss’ dunk with 1 1/2 minutes on the clock, Xavier closed the game on a 9-0 run.
The final outcome did not dampen Bliss’ excitement for the way his college career ended.
“What we were able to do … ,” the senior said, “something that I’ll be proud of forever.”