Xavier win drives Musketeer merchandise for local business

CINCINNATI -- Xavier University’s Elite Eight T-shirts were already designed when the final buzzer sounded, signifying a Musketeers victory Thursday.

Vesi Incorporated, a Cincinnati-based sportswear company, sent the orders out minutes after Xavier stunned second-seeded Arizona.

There’s a reason urgency is important; Vesi Inc. hopes to generate $15,000 to $20,000 this weekend on Xavier gear, according to CEO Greg Visconti.

“It is a challenging thing from a logistics standpoint, but it's a fun challenge,” Visconti said. “We embrace the challenge.  We love the challenge.  We have some very, very loyal customers that have been coming to our outlet sale for 20 years, and they look forward to these type of events and support them tremendously.”

Xavier’s Elite Eight garb is flying off the shelves at the Crable Factory Outlet in Springdale.

Chris Huster, of Deer Park, was one of the first in line Friday, and she took home 10 of the T-shirts.

“I have four children. Three of them graduated from Xavier University,” Huster said. “My husband is one of eight — one girl — seven of them graduated from Xavier University. It is an amazing story isn't it? I am so excited.”

Although she’s a University of Cincinnati graduate, Ann Ranaghan bought several Elite Eight shirts Friday.

“ It's always exciting when a local team can get far in the tournament, and so everyone needs to support the no matter what your original loyalties may have been,” Ranaghan said.

Xavier graduate student Scott Young is grateful for the recognition the tournament has brought to his school.

“It's always exciting to be in the national spotlight and to have something that you directly identify with get the appreciation of a much broader audience,” Young said. “That's always good and always makes people feel good. It's why you have sports teams.”

Xavier Musketeers guard Malcolm Bernard (11) throws the ball up in the air as time expires in the second half. (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar)

Malcolm Bernard's celebration with Xavier teammate Conor Peterson memorable

Malcolm Bernard's leveling of Xavier teammate Conor Peterson just after time ran out in the Musketeers' remarkable Sweet 16 upset of Arizona on Thursday night had better appear in "One Shining Moment."

Peterson - a walk-on from Libertyville, Ill., who was his high school team's MVP - will feel that in the morning after Bernard knocked him over while celebrating. But he definitely had a good sense of humor about it, Retweeting (from @CP24_hoops_) video of it.

After Hobbling Into March, Xavier Stuns Arizona to Reach Round of 8

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Two months ago, Xavier lost its point guard, one of its top scorers, to a season-ending knee injury.

Three weeks ago, Xavier lost its sixth consecutive game, barreling toward a hollow March.

Two weeks ago, Xavier upset Butler in the Big East quarterfinals, a victory that maybe, just maybe, nudged the Musketeers into the N.C.A.A. tournament field.

On Thursday night, Xavier, the lowest seed of the 16 teams to advance out of the second round, became the lowest seed to advance to the regional final. The No. 11 Musketeers stunned No. 2 Arizona, 73-71, overcoming an 8-point deficit in the last three and a half minutes. When it was over, when Malcolm Bernard yanked down a rebound and dribbled out the final three seconds, the Musketeers flexed in front of their fans, climbed onto press row and screamed in euphoria.

Trevon Bluiett, who led Xavier with 25 points and assisted on Sean O’Mara’s game-winning basket, said his impulse was to run into the crowd.

“Forget the rest of the game,” Bluiett said. “I’m going to go cheer.”

His coach, Chris Mack, had a slightly more subdued reaction.

“I was like, ‘This isn’t real,’” Mack said.

Oh, but it is. Xavier (24-13) has now ousted the sixth, third and second seeds in its region. It can add the No. 1 team on Saturday, when it faces Gonzaga, also seeking its first Final Four berth, at the SAP Center.

At a news conference afterward, three Xavier players and Mack were asked about Gonzaga.

Bluiett: “I didn’t get to catch them during the regular season.”

J. P. Macura: “I don’t know much about them. I just know they got a big guy. That’s about it. That’s all I really know.’

Bernard: “Same here.”

Mack, interjecting, said his players weren’t being disrespectful.

“Our guys are tucked in bed by 10:30, 11, so they don’t necessarily watch West Coast.”

Perhaps, but Mack’s staff does. And his assistants are likely to prepare a scouting report as detailed and effective as the one used to foil Arizona, which had lost only once in the last seven weeks. The Wildcats thundered through the Pac-12 tournament behind Allonzo Trier, selected as the most valuable player, and it was Trier on Thursday who buried a go-ahead 3-pointer, his third of the half, with 5:26 left.

Kadeem Allen contributed one of his own on the next possession, and after two foul shots by Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Arizona led by 8 points, 69-61, with about three and a half minutes remaining.

About a minute earlier, during the media timeout, Mack looked at his players and sensed calm. He told them not to worry, that plenty of time remained, and to play smart — take open shots, but not bad ones.

“It’s tough because you’re so worried and you’re so anxious and sometimes you’re nervous,” Bluiett said in the locker room afterward. “They went on a run, the gym got loud. You’ve just got to trust and believe.”

Until O’Mara’s late layup, Mack felt Xavier’s most important basket was a 3-pointer by Bernard with 2:37 left. By scything Arizona’s lead to 4 points, 71-67, Xavier put pressure on the Wildcats to score.

They never did.

Two free throws by Bluiett tied the score at 71-71, and he delivered the most critical pass of the night, on a play that Mack called after changing his mind. With 50 seconds left, Mack rescinded his original call because it was too slow to develop, concerned that a miss would give Arizona a chance to win without Xavier ever touching the ball again. So he opted for a play that unfolded more quickly.

Knowing what was coming, O’Mara said he tried to hide his smile. Bluiett read the defense and lobbed a pass down low to O’Mara, who banked it in with 44.1 seconds remaining.

“The perfect pass, the perfect time,” O’Mara said, adding, “All I had to do was turn and score.”

The celebrations that ensued a few minutes later felt long removed from a gloomy winter and the losing streak Xavier had endured. Its dynamic point guard, Edmond Sumner, tore a knee ligament in late January, at St. John’s. Then, after the Musketeers lost a fifth straight game, to Butler, the staff made calendars of February for the players — to stress the difficulty of their opponents and to emphasize that, yes, they still belonged in the N.C.A.A. tournament.

Then they burned those calendars. They burned them in a trash can in the locker room and bought a clear jar at Walmart — a proper urn, alas, was unavailable — to house the ashes. The jar stays on the scorer’s table during practice, and it greets players in the locker room when they come off the floor.

“We take it everywhere we go,” Mack said.

They took it to Orlando, Fla., where they toppled Maryland and dismantled the No. 3 seed, Florida State. When the Musketeers saw it in their locker room at halftime Thursday, they trailed by 37-35, despite 18 points from Bluiett. The next time they saw it, sitting on a massage table, they were yelling and dancing and, O’Mara said, “just throwing stuff.”

O’Mara said he needed about four hours to wind down. Bluiett figured he’d pull an all-nighter. Sleep would come soon enough. They would be one of the final eight teams in the tournament and had another game to prepare for, improbable as that seemed two weeks ago.

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