Seniors lead Xavier to win over Purdue
Purdue has four standout freshmen, and their growth was remarkable as they helped lead the Boilermakers to a successful Big Ten season and a trip to the NCAA tournament. Xavier, on the other hand, is loaded with veterans, including three battle-tested seniors.
In the end, experience prevailed over youth.
“Experience is everything,” senior guard Stanley Burrell said after the Musketeers’ 85-78 victory in a second-round West regional game yesterday at Verizon Center.
The third-seeded Musketeers (29-6) set a school record for victories and earned a trip to the Sweet 16 and a date with West Virginia on Thursday night in Phoenix.
“Our team has toughened itself not only during the course of this season, but these guys came in a long time ago, and we got better each year, more prepared for this moment,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.
Xavier was shaky at the start, finding itself on the wrong end of 9-0 and 12-2 scores. But that was a minor annoyance. The Musketeers had, after all, been through much worse. Like last year, when they lost to Ohio State in overtime in the second round of the NCAA tournament after blowing a nine-point lead with less than three minutes remaining.
Seated at the postgame podium with Burrell, seniors Drew Lavender and Josh Duncan and junior C.J. Anderson, Miller said, “These three seniors and C.J., I think it’s ironic that they’re up here together because [they] went through a very difficult loss in the same game.
“It’s been a motivating factor for us all spring, summer, fall, during the year to get back to this moment and see if we could break through.”
Directed by Lavender, a 5-foot-7 point guard, the Musketeers patiently adjusted to Purdue’s tight man-to-man defense, finding the seams and scoring in the paint. By halftime, Xavier led 35-32 on Lavender’s 3-pointer at the buzzer and gradually extended its lead to 10 with 8:33 to play.
“At times, we simply couldn’t stop them,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
But sixth-seeded Purdue (25-9) found its own resolve, running off 11 straight points to take a 61-60 lead with 5:44 left. The Boilermakers’ All-Big 10 freshman, swingman Robbie Hummel, who was scoreless in the first half, scored five quick points during the rally.
But Xavier showed its age again, regaining the lead on junior B.J. Raymond’s little turnaround jump shot that resulted in a three-point play. Miller called it “the biggest play of the game.”
After Purdue failed to score on its next two possessions, a drive by Lavender and his dish to Anderson gave Xavier a 67-61 lead. Despite the Musketeers’ inability to inbound the ball during the final minute, they never really were threatened.
“We could have got rattled by everything, but we stayed together and stayed poised,” Lavender said.
The only NCAA Division I team with six players scoring in double figures, Xavier was balanced again. Lavender finished with 18 points and nine assists, and Anderson also scored 18.