Xavier beats Pitt 84-73, reaches 1st Sweet 16 since 2017
By STEVE REED
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) Sean Miller has unselfish Xavier back in the Sweet 16.
Jack Nunge scored 18 points, Adam Kunkel added 15 on five first-half 3-pointers, and No. 3 seed Xavier beat 11th-seeded Pittsburgh 84-73 on Sunday to advance to the NCAA Tournament's second week for the first time since 2017.
Colby Jones had 10 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, and Souley Boum and Jerome Hunter each chipped in with 14 points as all five Xavier starters scored in double digits.
Xavier entered the game leading the country in assists per game (19.2) and had 17 on 19 baskets in the first half to build a 48-34 lead at the break. The Musketeers finished with 22 assists.
The victory came exactly one year after Miller agreed to return as Xavier's coach.
He had coached the Musketeers from 2004-09, helping them reach the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight once before leaving for Arizona. This will be Miller's first regional semifinal appearance since 2018 with the Wildcats.
Miller said he never doubted he could still win, but gave the credit to his players.
“I have an amazing group to work with,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of coaches that could win with this team, and I recognize that. My hope is that we have more in us, that we’re able to have a great week and make what we already feel good about even better.”
Xavier (27-9) moves on to play No. 2 seed Texas on Friday in the Midwest Region semifinals in Kansas City, Missouri.
Blake Hinson scored 18 points and Jamarius Burton had 16 for Pitt (24-12).
It was the second straight game Nunge came up big for Xavier. The 7-foot center had a critical blocked shot in the closing seconds of the Musketeers' 72-67 first-round win over 14th-seeded Kennesaw State.
“I’ve been dreaming about this moment ever since I started watching basketball,” Nunge said. “When you are in school, you are thrilled when your teachers let you turn on the game and not have to focus on class. And so March Madness is a special time of year. It’s the best tournament in the world.”
Nunge set the tone early, dominating the paint with eight points in the first 10 minutes while Jones knocked down two 3s as the Musketeers bolted to a 28-18 lead.
The Musketeers blew the game open with a 12-2 run behind Kunkel, who made two 3s and threw an alley-oop dunk to Nunge. Kunkel followed with his fifth 3 of the first half to give Xavier a 19-point lead with 1:26 left.
“We really rode the wave of Adam Kunkel,” Miller said. “He was 5 for 5 from the 3-point line. We really shared the ball and played at our pace throughout the game. We talked a lot about that before the game.”
Pitt did not get closer than eight points in the second half even after Nunge fouled out with 3:18 remaining.
After holding No. 6 seed Iowa State to 41 points on Friday, Pitt allowed Xavier to score 42 in the first 15 minutes.
“Iowa State was not as good of an offensive team as Xavier,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “Xavier has been an elite offensive team all year. They were moving with great pace. They made seven 3s in the first half. The ball had energy. ... We couldn’t disrupt their rhythm.”
It didn’t help Pitt's cause that big man Federiko Federiko played less than a minute because of a knee problem that also kept him out of the Panthers' First Four win over Mississippi State. Capel said he noticed Federiko running with a limp and immediately removed him so he wouldn’t risk further injury. Federiko spent the rest of the game on a stationary bike, often grimacing in pain.
Pitt: The Panthers won their first two NCAA Tournament games since 2014 before bowing out. “It sucks right now,” Pitt guard Nelly Cummings said. “It stings we just lost, but when you have a little bit of time to reflect, we accomplished a lot of things, so I think the bond that we have is definitely a reason for that.”
Xavier: After needing to come back from 13 down in the second half to beat Kennesaw State, the Musketeers left no doubt about this one, coming out focused and ready to play.
Xavier will face a Longhorns team that has won six straight games.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Updated March 19, 2023