Jack Nunge’s block helps No. 3 Xavier survive upset bid by No. 14 Kennesaw State
For those fans whose brackets took massive hits with Thursday’s two major upsets, starting off Friday’s first-round games with third-seeded Xavier facing a cardiac moment against 14th-seeded Kennesaw State surely didn’t calm things.
A day after March Madness saw No. 15 seed Princeton knock off No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 13 seed Furman hit a shot in a crazy sequence to upset No. 4 Virginia, seeing the Musketeers trailing by 13 midway through the second half had much of the country exiting work early and flocking to bars on St. Patrick’s Day.
Breathe easy [for a moment], bracket fanatics and send gifts to Xavier big man Jack Nunge. Nunge blocked a go-ahead basket by Kennesaw State’s Terrell Burden in the final seconds and Souley Boom sank four free throws over the final 2.6 seconds as Xavier rallied to beat the NCAA first-timer Fighting Owls, 72-67, In Greensboro, N.C.
The Musketeers (26-9) advance to the second round where they will face the winner of 11th-seeded Pittsburgh, where Xavier coach Sean Miller played, and sixth-seeded Iowa State on Sunday.
Kennesaw State (26-9) made the most of its first NCAA Division I tournament appearance. The 2004 Division II national champs, now led by rising coaching star Amir Abdur-Rahim, finally broke through to the Big Dance by beating Liberty in the Atlantic Sun championship game after sharing the regular-season title with the Flames.
Chris Youngblood and Terrell Burden each had 14 points for the Fighting Owls.
Xavier, who has played the last month without star forward Zach Freemantle, trailed 61-48 with 9:56 to play before Jerome Hunter, who had a game-high 24 points, and Souley Boom (17 points) took over down the stretch.
While Kennesaw State couldn’t buy a basket for the next 7:52, Xavier went on a 16-2 run to take a 64-63 lead with Boom scoring six points and Hunter adding five during that stretch.
The Fighting Owls finally got baskets from Demond Robinson and Kasen Jennings sandwiched around a 3-pointer by Xavier’s Adam Kunkel to make it 67-67 with 1:22 remaining.
After Colby Jones’ free throw put Xavier ahead, Burden drove the lane for a short jumper, only to see Nunge deny him. Boom wound up with the loose rebound and the Musketeers survived.