No. 18 Xavier, Florida to battle in Charleston Classic final

The Associated Press

No.18 Xavier reached the finals of the Charleston Classic with a show of resilience.

Florida made it with a show of force.

The teams will play for the tournament championship on Sunday night in a game that will have a hard time matching the drama of Xavier's 75-74 double-overtime victory over Connecticut in a game that stretched into the wee hours Saturday morning.

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"We've got the right guys in our locker room," Xavier second-year coach Travis Steele said. "Tough guys."

Florida (4-2) played its most complete game of the season to get past Miami (Fla.) 78-58 earlier in the day, using a 20-2 spurt in the first half to take a lead it never lost.

The title game will be a rematch of an in-season tournament game a year ago, when Butler beat Florida 61-54 in the fifth-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas on Nov. 23, 2018.

Musketeers leader Naji Marshall scored 21 points, including 13 straight late in regulation and in the first overtime, before Mr. Perfect Jason Carter hit two free throws with 10.1 seconds remaining in the second overtime for the winning points against UConn as the Musketeers improved to 6-0. Graduate transfer Carter is 15-of-15 from the free-throw line this season.

"Our guys, that was a gutty performance," Steele said. "We didn't play very well, and give a lot of credit to UConn. Our guys just found a way."

Marshall and Paul Scruggs (17 points) were two of three starters to foul out, Marshall on the first possession of the second overtime, and the Musketeers recovered after losing a five-point lead in the final 22 seconds of the first overtime.

"I just didn't want to let my team down," said Marshall, the preseason Big East Player of the Year pick. "We have to put this one behind us. Florida is a great team, like UConn."

The Gators were No. 6 in the preseason AP Top 25 before dropping to No. 15 after a loss to Florida State and falling out of the rankings entirely after a loss to UConn. But they looked like a team ready to be re-ranked after shooting 52.6 percent against the Hurricanes and putting four players in double figures.

"I'm not one of these 'I told you so' guys or 'Watch how good we're gonna be now,' " Florida coach Mike White said.

"Who knows? We're still figuring out each other. I do think we're going to be a lot better than we are now in couple of months. Does that mean we're ranked 37th or 14th? I don't care."

Graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. had 20 points and 11 rebounds against Miami, his fourth double-double in six games with the Gators, and he was not alone. Freshman Scottie Lewis had season highs with 13 points and eight rebounds and sophomore Andrew Nembhard had eight points, nine assists and four steals.

"The best of us hasn't come yet," said Blackshear, who played sparingly in a first-round win over St. Joseph's after being ejected when he was assessed a flagrant two foul for throwing an elbow.

Florida sophomore Keyontae Johnson had 12 points and seven rebounds after getting his fifth career double-double (22 points, 12 rebounds) in a first-round victory over St. Joseph's.

--Field Level Media

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