ST. LOUIS -- After one of the best regular seasons in school history, the Xavier Musketeers entered the NCAA Tournament as a 2-seed, with high expectations. Unlike Michigan State, a fellow 2-seed who were upset earlier in the day, they did not suffer the same fate as the Spartans, as Xavier defeated the Weber State Wildcats 71-53, thanks to their scoring depth and rebounding prowess, which has been a formula for Xavier's success all season.
"I'm really proud of this team," head coach Chris Mack said after the game. "Our seniors, especially, really stepped up."
Xavier, led by James Farr's 18 points (and seventh double-double of the season, more on that in a moment), had the same balanced scoring attack we have grown accustomed to. Farr was one of five Musketeers with at least seven points, and one of three in double digits.
Jalen Reynolds was a force down low, scoring 12 points and slamming home an emphatic dunk in the second half that made the crowd rise to its feet. It made us ask the question - who would win in a dunk contest: Reynolds, or the Incredible Hulk?
"Being a good teammate, I'd have to go with Jalen," said Trevon Bluiett, who scored 10 points and grabbed five boards. "If the Incredible Hulk could dunk that'd be impressive. I'd want to see it with my own eyes."
"He might be mad at me if I don't choose him," said Farr.
The Musketeers had also had some defensive woes lately, allowing 83 or more points in four of their final five Big East contests, but those appeared to clear up tonight, as the Wildcats were held to 53 points and a 39% shooting percentage.
Xavier, as they so often do, made a living on the boards tonight. In 27 of their (now) 28 victories this season, the Musketeers have either won or tied the rebounding battle. They finished +16 tonight, 43-27, with James Farr leading the way with 15 rebounds.
"I didn't want to go home," said the senior Farr. "I just wanted to be able to set the tone and help my teammates. We're glad to get this win, but we're nowhere near our goal."
Earlier Friday, in the very same building, 2-seed Michigan State was shockingly defeated by 15-seed Middle Tennessee State in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. The Musketeers were aware of the situation at hand, and were focused from the jump.
"We watched the game," said Bluiett. "That made us want to be even more locked in because those type of games can happen."
For Weber State, Joel Bolomboy finished his college career with a double-double, notching 14 points and 10 rebounds. Bolomboy is currently projected as a late-second round pick on DraftExpress, so this showing will help the big man in his future endeavors.
"He showed his athleticism in the first two minutes of the game," Mack said of the Wildcat center. "Our ability to keep him in check for the most part, assert our will on the glass and to out-rebound (Weber State) by 16 isn't an easy thing to do."
The Musketeers will play the Wisconsin Badgers on Sunday night, again at Scottrade Center. A win would take them to their fourth Sweet Sixteen in seven seasons.
"Wisconsin is a very good team," said Myles Davis. "They are a mature team. They are an experienced team. It doesn't matter who we play."