Down by 22, No. 10 Xavier rallies for 68-66 win over ETSU
CINCINNATI (AP) — Trevon Bluiett missed 11 straight shots as Xavier fell behind by 22 points in the second half. When the 10th-ranked Musketeers absolutely had to get one, their top scorer stepped back and confidently put one in.
Bluiett’s jumper with 6.3 seconds left completed the Musketeers’ frantic rally Saturday to a 68-66 victory over ETSU, their biggest comeback in 18 seasons at the Cintas Center.
The Musketeers (10-1) overcame their worst shooting performance of the season, making the clutch shots at the end to pull it out. Bluiett was only 7 of 22 from the field for 18 points, but made the one that mattered, using one of his signature moves.
“Anybody who’s watched film on him, they know that’s his game,” said teammate Sean O’Mara, who had eight points and seven rebounds. “The step-back — that’s his move.”
ETSU (6-4) led 51-29 with 14:24 to go, but couldn’t hold off the Musketeers. Desonta Bradford scored 20 points, but his long 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer.
Xavier has won 38 straight nonconference home games since a 56-55 loss to Wofford on Dec. 22, 2012. The streak was in jeopardy until the final minute. Kerem Kanter’s 3-pointer tied it at 66 with 53 seconds left.
“We played our hearts out,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We couldn’t finish. We had opportunities to close it out but missed some shots. We can’t leave Kanter open like that.”
Xavier came into the game ranked second nationally at 54.6 percent from the field, but shot a season-low 29 percent from the field in the first half. The Musketeers finished at 38 percent.
Down by 22 points, the Musketeers switched from their usual man-to-man to a zone defense and ETSU’s offense slogged down, giving them a chance for the comeback. ETSU missed its last three shots.
“We followed our game plan,” said ETSU’s Peter Jurkin, who had 11 points and blocked five shots. “In the end, they went to a 1-3-1 (zone) and the ball didn’t go in so easily.”
ETSU: The Buccaneers had already played a top-10 team on the road, losing at No. 7 Kentucky 78-61 on Nov. 17. They shot a season-low 32 percent against the Wildcats. Against the Musketeers, they shot 37 percent.
Xavier: Coach Chris Mack blamed himself for Xavier’s sloppy showing. He gave his players three full days off during exam week — more than usual — and they were out of sync when they returned to practice on Thursday. It carried over to the game.
“I’m kicking myself,” Mack said. “Our practice Thursday was the worst practice of the year.”
Xavier senior J.P. Macura went to the bench with 10:55 to go and had his peripheral vision tested. The guard didn’t return to the game, going 0 for 8 with one free throw. Mack had no update on his condition. Freshmen Paul Scruggs and Elias Harden were benched for violating a team rule.
BIGGER THAN ...
Xavier’s previous best comeback at the Cintas Center was rallying from 19 points down with less than 10 minutes left for a 66-63 victory over Purdue on Dec. 3, 2011.
FOUL, FOUL, FOUL
Xavier had one thing in its favor in the closing seconds: three fouls to give. After Bluiett’s jumper gave the Musketeers the lead, they fouled three times, draining the clock to 1.3 seconds and forcing Bradford to hurry the final shot.
ETSU visits Detroit on Tuesday, followed by home games against Georgia Southern and Tusculum.
Xavier hosts Marshall on Tuesday, wrapping up its six-game homestand. The homestand includes 13-point wins over then-No. 16 Baylor and then-No. 11 Cincinnati . They’re 8-0 at the Cintas Center this season.
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