XU tourney takeaways: How Xavier beat Maryland

Xavier University's been a different team since the calendar turned to March.

The Musketeers won their fourth game of the month Thursday night, defeating No. 6-seed University of Maryland, 76-65, in a NCAA Tournament first-round game at Amway Center.

Xavier's record in March 2017 improved to 4-2 and 4-1 in postseason elimination games (dating back to last week's Big East Conference Tournament semifinal run).

Save for a March 1 loss to Marquette, Xavier's last five games have combined to form arguably its best stretch of the season. And the Maryland win trumps the previous four outings given the grandeur of the NCAA Tournament stage.

On Thursday, the Musketeers received big performances from their most important player and had some others chip in along the way.

It wasn't Xavier's prettiest game of the season, but it was a complete team effort that saw the Musketeers through to the tournament's Round of 32.

Here's how they did it:

Trevon Bluiett was Trevon Bluiett – eventually.

As has become common in recent weeks, Bluiett went cold in the first half against Maryland. He was 1 of 8 from the field.

As has also become the norm, Bluiett finished the game with a flourish on 6 of 7 shooting and 18 second-half points. He went for 21 points overall, along with a career-high four steals.

Why has Bluiett been waiting until the second half to heat up? It's obviously not a purposeful decision. Asked about this phenomena postgame, Bluiett said he just feels more comfortable coming out of the halftime strategy sessions.

"In the first half, I felt like I played kind of sped up," Bluiett said the locker room afterward. "The second is just kind of like when I'm relaxed and we played together as a group... We get on the same page (at halftime) and that's when everything starts to connect. I wish I played better in the first half."

Sean O'Mara saved his best game for the biggest stage

A career-high 18 points and a game-high seven rebounds. All in a tightly-contested NCAA Tournament victory.

What more needs to be about junior forward Sean O'Mara's outing against the Terrapins.

He helped break up a nervy start for both teams as he went on a scoring binge early in the first half, tallying seven points during a 12-0 Xavier run.

With the score tied 50-50 in the second half, O'Mara and Bluiett combined for 16 points over the final 12:56. Xavier out-scored the Terps 26-15 over that period, which included a 14-0 spurt for a white-hot Xavier.

O'Mara's moves in the low post look tidy and refined. He's finishing his chances from close to the cup and he's hitting his free-throws, too (8 of 9 against Maryland).

O'Mara was a mover and a shaker from the second he was called in off the bench until the final buzzer. Depending on matchups, it's likely Xavier will need a similar outing from O'Mara against Florida State.

Don't call Quentin Goodin a freshman anymore

Until this season ends, Xavier freshman guard Quentin Goodin will remain classified as a freshman in terms of his eligibility. Don't be fooled, though. Goodin seems to improve with each game and is now playing with the confidence of veteran collegian.

He scored nine points and dished out a career-high nine assists over 39 minutes against Maryland.

Was it perfect? Are there still growing pains? Of course. For instance, he turned the ball over five times, and several of those pocket-pickings lead to easy baskets for Maryland's guards. His ballhandling was, at times, a hazard to the Musketeers' leads.

But what Goodin lacks in veteran savvy he makes up for with a short memory. The mistakes don't rattle or buck Goodin from his game. Tonight, that allowed him to quarterback Xavier to victory.

Silencing Melo Trimble

For ballyhooed junior Maryland guard Melo Trimble, it just wasn't his night. The cause of that was equal parts Trimble missing open looks and Xavier's defense – namely Goodin and graduate transfer Malcolm Bernard – silencing him.

Trimble went for just 13 points on 5 of 15 shooting. He was 1 of 9 from deep. Numbers like those weren't going to get it done for the Terps on a neutral court.

"I think they (Goodin and Bernard) did a terrific job. Just because you're in zone doesn't mean you're not going to have individual challenges," Mack said. "You're going to face those all the time. Quentin got squared up a couple times with Melo Trimble and I thought did a great job of cutting him off, putting his chest on him and not necessarily let him get downhill and get an angle.

"Some of the pushes Maryland had to make, at least the last six-eight minutes, I felt like there was a Xavier player that was making it tough and staying in the play... I thought our guards did a really good job."

In fact, it was the one-time Xavier recruit Kevin Huerter that hurt Xavier the most and kept Maryland close throughout most of the contest. Huerter had a team-high 19 points.

NEXT UP

No. 11 XAVIER (22-13) v. No. 3 Florida State (26-8)

Tip-off: 6:10 p.m., Saturday at Amway Center

TV/Radio: TNT/TBA

FIRST LOOK AT FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES

How they got to the second round: 86-80 first-round win over Florida Gulf Coast.

Regular season/conference tournament: 25-8 overall, 12-6 record in league play; Lost in ACC Tournament semifinal round to Notre Dame, 77-73.

Projected FSU starters: Jonathan Isaac (6-10 freshman forward), Michael Ojo (7-1 center (graduate student)), Dwayne Bacon (6-7 sophomore guard), Terrance Mann (6-6 sophomore guard), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (6-4 junior guard).

Xavier Musketeers forward Sean O'Mara (54) throws up a shot ahead of Maryland Terrapins forward Damonte Dodd (35) in the first half of the NCAA Tournament First Round game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Xavier Musketeers at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, March 16, 2017. At the half, Maryland led Xavier 36-35. (Photo: Sam Greene, The Enquirer)





Watch Bill Murray root for Xavier University during the NCAA tournament

If you’ve missed visions of Bill Murray cheering on sports in the wake of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win, you’re in luck.

The actor’s son is an assistant coach for Xavier University’s basketball team, and Murray was in the stands Thursday cheering them on as they played Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Xavier, an 11 seed in the tournament, beat sixth-seeded Maryland in a 76-65 upset, meaning Murray gets another chance to cheer on the Musketeers and Julia Louis-Dreyfus has competition in the celebrities-cheering-on-their-kids-during-March-Madness department.

Get a look at Murray at the Xavier game below, and cross your fingers he’ll be back when the team plays Florida State in the tournament’s second round.

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