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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

These X-Men Are Also Super

Xavier makes it mark by stunning No. 2-seeded Mississippi State, 89-74, with remarkable precision.

March 22, 2004|Jeff Darlington | Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — The ball left his hands, spinning flawlessly toward the basket from three feet beyond half court. This wasn't a prayer. And it wasn't luck.

As Xavier guard Dedrick Finn's last-second shot slid through the net to end the first half of Sunday's 89-74 victory over second-seeded Mississippi State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the truth behind the Musketeers' recent success became far easier to understand.

This is no longer simply good fortune. It might be destiny.

"That shot was going in," Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury said. "They are on such a roll right now. If they play like they played [Sunday], they will win the national championship."

Sure, it's a bold statement -- especially considering seventh-seeded Xavier (25-10) will probably face more intense defensive stands. But based on Sunday's smoldering offense and precise shooting, the Musketeers might be the hottest of the 16 teams left in the tournament.

Xavier will play third-seeded Texas in the Atlanta Regional semifinals Friday. It has won eight in row, and 15 of its past 16 games.

"No other team in the country deserves this as much as we do," senior guard Lionel Chalmers said. "We don't worry about ifs and buts. We settle our own destiny."

And it was Chalmers who decided the destiny of the Musketeers on Sunday. Sparked by the guard, Xavier's offense made 69.2% of its shots in the second half, including seven of nine from three-point range.

Overall, Chalmers made 11 of 13 shots and had 31 points, the most scored by a Musketeer in the NCAA tournament. Chalmers credits his mentality of treating every game as if it could be his last.

"If this isn't my time, then I'm not going to have a time," Chalmers said. "When I'm done with the 40 minutes, I don't want to walk away regretting anything."

Chalmers performance was even more impressive since he didn't score until nine minutes into the game. Perhaps as important as their success on offense, the Musketeers shut down forward Lawrence Roberts.

The Southeastern Conference player of the year was limited to 11 points. He made only four of 11 shots.

The performance was far different from the last time Roberts played against Xavier. In December, the SEC's leading scorer picked up 21 points to lead his team to an 82-70 victory.

Mississippi State finished 26-4.

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