ORLANDO | X marked the spot — almost anywhere beyond the 3-point arc at the Amway Center on Saturday for Xavier University.
The Musketeers buried Florida State during a 16-4 second-half run that included four 3-point shots in five possessions and went on to give the Seminoles an early and unexpected boot from the NCAA tournament with a 91-66 victory in a West region game that matched FSU’s worst deficit in the post-season.
The third-seeded Seminoles (26-9), playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years, were dispatched in a first- or second-round game for the fourth time in five appearances under coach Leonard Hamilton.
Eleventh-seeded Xavier (23-13) advanced to the West region semifinals on Thursday in San Jose, Calif., and will play the winner of a late game between No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 10 St. Mary’s in Salt Lake City.
The Musketeers, which entered the game 220th in the nation in 3-point percentage (.342), were lights-out against the ‘Noles, making 11 of 17 from beyond the arc. Five players connected from long range and junior guard Trevon Bluiett scored 29 points and made three of five 3-point attempts to lead five players in double figures.
Sophomore forward Kaiser Gates contributed 14, including four of five 3-pointers.
During Xavier’s pivotal run, in which the Musketeers stretched a 53-43 lead to 69-47 with 9:15 remaining, Gates made three of his 3-point shots and junior guard J.P. Macura (10 points, five assists) added another.
Bluiett sliced inside for most of his 21 second-half points when the ‘Noles stepped out onto the perimeter. In two NCAA games, he’s scored 39 points in the second half.
“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “After the first half I just go to the next page.”
By contrast, the Seminoles were four of 21 on 3-pointers (and five of 34 in the tournament) and missed 11 in a row from beyond the arc at one point. Dwayne Bacon led FSU with 20 points and Xavier Rathan-Mayes had 16.
Xavier threw a zone defense at the Seminoles and literally dared them to launch 3s. Coach Chris Mack said that and taking care of the ball was the only way his under-sized and under-manned team could keep up with his more athletic opponent.
The Musketeers had only nine turnovers, matching a low over their last 14 games.
“I don’t think they played very well and we had a lot to do with that,” Mack said. “I think the zone affected them and I felt we had to box them in the half court and not turn the ball over.”
FSU forward Terance Mann said something had to give but Xavier never allowed it.
“We just didn’t hit shots and we were not able to get to the basket,” he said.
Hamilton said the lack of turnovers and Xavier’s shooting prevented FSU from ever turning the game into its preferred track-meet style.
“The things that have been good to us all year in terms of deflections and steals and forcing turnovers … and they executed so well in the half court that they didn’t turn the ball over,” Hamilton said. “We’ve been a very inconsistent 3-point shooting team this year and obviously they knew that and packed it in. If we were going to win the game, we were going to have to it from the perimeter and obviously, tonight, we were four for 21.”
The loss was FSU’s worst in the tournament since falling to Kentucky 106-81 in an Elite Eight game in 1993. The Seminoles are 4-5 in the NCAA tournament under Hamilton.
It also put a sour note on a season in which FSU was 18-0 at home, was the second seed in the ACC tournament after being predicted to finish eighth in the league in the preseason, and were 20-2 at one point.
”I thought we had a great season,” Hamilton said. “I thought tonight we met a team that really took advantage of the areas where we were weak.”