- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

As the clocked ticked down on Xavier’s 73-61 NCAA first-round victory in the West regional at Verizon Center yesterday, Musketeers guard Drew Lavender had a few words for a contingent of vocal Georgia fans.

You’ve got a good team, said Lavender, standing near the sideline. You’ve got a good team.

For much of the game, Georgia was a very good team, going up by 11 points early in the second half. The 14th-seeded Bulldogs (17-17) seemed intent on continuing the stunning run that started last week when they won four games, including three in two days, to take the Southeastern Conference tournament championship in storm-battered Atlanta.

But this was one storm Georgia couldn’t weather, especially the flood of Xavier free throws. The third-seeded Musketeers (28-6) made 27 of 33 foul shots, including 25 of 29 after halftime.

The Bulldogs were 3-for-5 from the line. Total.

I thought that was the pivotal point of the game was how Georgia coach Dennis Felton discreetly put it.

Xavier forward Josh Duncan nearly tripled the number of Georgia free throw attempts by himself, making 11 of 14. The 6-foot-9 senior had a game-high 20 points, well exceeding his team-leading average of 11.7.

And he was filling a role with which he lately has been unaccustomed.

Xavier coach Sean Miller made Duncan a surprise starter. Despite his second-team All-Atlantic 10 credentials, Duncan relinquished his starting spot to Jason Love just after Christmas and has been coming off the bench. The Musketeers won 17 of their next 18 games after the move, so why mess with success?

But Xavier’s offense sputtered last week in its 61-53 loss to Saint Joseph’s in the A-10 semifinals, and Miller was looking for a spark.

We wanted to start the more experienced, more ready person, Miller said. No disrespect to Jason Love. He’s been great for us. But we wanted to get off to the best start we could. I don’t know if it worked, but Josh, although he’s not a starter, he plays starters minutes.

Josh is a very good player. He could have been in consideration for the player of the year in our conference. He was our best player in the Atlantic 10 statistically. The way he played today, he’s played a lot of games like that for us.

Duncan, the A-10 sixth man of the year, shot 57 percent from the field during the conference season and made a school-record 16 straight field goals in a three-game stretch.

I wasn’t surprised that Josh was starting, Lavender said. He’s a great player, our leading scorer. I knew he’d step up big.

As the only NCAA Division I team with six players averaging double figures in scoring, Xavier is all about balance and sharing responsibility. Duncan, who is part of a senior nucleus that includes Lavender and guard Stanley Burrell, said he had no problem with not starting.

I can’t get down and start pouting, he said. It’s all about the team.

As usual, it was a group effort. Burrell, the defensive specialist, helped limit Georgia’s best player, Sundiata Gaines, to 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting. Forward Derrick Brown had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Lavender ran the offense and chipped in with 13 points.

After falling behind 41-30 less than three minutes into the second half, the Musketeers, who play Purdue tomorrow, turned up their defense and used a 17-2 run to break things open.

We stay together and keep our focus, and we came out in the second half a totally different team, Duncan said.

SEEN AND HEARD AT VERIZON CENTER

Ryan O’Halloran took in all of yesterday’s action at Verizon Center (without imbibing, at least inside the arena) and offers these observations:

The NCAA tournament is anything but throwback when it talks about charging the media for wireless uses ($16.50 a day, thank you very much), starts games at insane hours (see last night’s 9:55 nightcap in Anaheim) and extended timeouts (so CBS can sell more advertising).

But the Dance is old school in at least one major way:

Prohibition.

Yes, Verizon Center was a dry county yesterday for four games stretching over nearly 12 hours. The Georgia fan looking for a quick cocktail after the loss? He had to go to the Green Turtle. The Baylor fan looking for a beer after the Bears’ loss? She had to go to Bar Louie in Gallery Place.

A sign was posted at several concession stands reading: NCAA TOURNAMENT IS A NO ALCOHOL EVENT. For emphasis, the NO was underlined.

Additionally, things like popcorn, peanuts, pop and water were a baseline $4.

So instead of an overpriced beer, fans could dine on overpriced junk food.

Elsewhere in Chinatown yesterday …

• The uniforms worn by the Georgia cheerleaders in the first half were the best — ever — seen. It looked like the women could go directly from the court to a dance club.

• The joint wasn’t exactly jumping during the first half of the first game. Aside from obnoxious Georgia fans who blamed the refs for everything, there wasn’t a buzz. Maybe everybody was searching for parking. The Gallery Place garage wasn’t taking any cars, which left folks scrambling.

• If people in the arena want to know the scores of other games, they will need a BlackBerry. No other scores are posted.

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