ATLANTA – It took exactly 55 seconds for Xavier coach Chris Mack to realize his team was in serious trouble.
“He’s not supposed to do that!” Mack said on the sideline. “Seventeen feet? He’s not supposed to do that.”
But he did. Acy also threw down crowd-rousing jams, reeled in both offensive and defensive rebounds that kept Xavier at a (mostly) comfortable distance in the rear-view mirror, covered for yet another Perry Jones III vanishing act, and singlehandedly willed his third-seeded team into the Elite Eight with a 75-70 victory over the 10th-seeded Musketeers.
“He was a beast,” said Brady Heslip, Acy’s roommate and a starting guard. “He was telling me all week that he wanted to play better because he knew he hadn’t been carrying his weight. He sure did tonight.”
Acy finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting. And even that doesn’t tell the entire story of how he dominated Xavier on both ends of the floor.
“He’s a cage-rattler,” Mack said. “I want to see his birth certificate. He’s that kid, when you’re coaching AAU and you look over and he just looks so much bigger and stronger than everybody. … I can take some of the offensive rebound putbacks, but when he starts facing up and hitting jump shots, it’s not what the doctor ordered. It’s not fair.”
Acy feigned shock when told of Mack’s comments.
“That hurts my heart because I worked on [perimeter shots] all summer,” he said, smiling. “I’ve hit three threes this year, too. I’m 60 percent from beyond the arc.”
He also helpfully pointed out that he was born in 1990, but that the beard might be throwing off perception a bit.
Acy and the rest of the Bears could laugh, but it was the laugh of a team that knows it came within shouting distance of an epic choke. The Bears scampered out to leads of 14-2 and 22-4, thanks to a combination of inside-out play that had eluded them most of the past few weeks. Heslip and Pierre Jackson buried deep shots while Acy and Quincy Miller held Xavier to single-shot possessions. The Musketeers appeared destined to see Baylor’s neon yellow uniforms in their nightmares.
“I think we really stepped our game up because we know, in order for us to continue to win, we had to get more production from our front line,” Acy said. “Our guards have been consistent this whole tournament, and we had to give them more help. So the guys on the front line really took that personally, and we need to do a better job.”
But sometimes, a huge lead too early is the worst thing that can happen to a team. You go from being up 18 to being up 14 to up nine to “wait a minute, they’re just one possession down.” The shots stopped falling for the guards and the frontcourt let Xavier center Kenny Frease find his rhythm. Musketeers guard Tu Holloway also remembered how to knock it down from long range.
“I think any time you can get a lead, you’re going to take it as a coach,” Baylor’s Scott Drew said. “At the same time, we knew, in their first two games, they were down 15 against Lehigh, 14 against Notre Dame, and both times they came back. So we kept telling our guys, ‘It’s not over.’ … Credit them for coming back, as they always do.”
In the end, though, it was a team effort the Bears haven’t shown in quite some time. Heslip iced the outcome with four free throws in the game's closing seconds, never allowing the Musketeers to get closer than three, never allowing them the ball with a chance to tie.
“Sometimes you get in big games, and mentally you drift or you make some mistakes because of the excitement,” Drew said. “I thought we really executed well and stayed focused, and because of that, we made sure that we never let them get over the hump.”
And on the court, does it give an advantage? “I think it helps with our assist-to-turnover ratio,” Drew said, smiling. “We know who we’re passing to.”
So do fans in the upper deck.
This marks Baylor's second trip to the Elite Eight in three seasons, quite a feat for a team that hadn’t gone that far since 1950. Two years ago, the Bears’ journey ended at the hands of eventual national champion Duke. But Duke’s gone now, and Baylor still is hanging around, looking to take another step up the ladder.
“We know how the taste felt in our mouth last time we were here,” Acy said, “and we don’t want to go out with that same taste.”
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