Chris Mack

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Xavier extends Chris Mack’s contract

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On the eve of Chris Mack’s becoming the program’s all-time winningest coach, Xavier has tacked on another year to his contract

Mack and the Musketeers announced a one-year contract extension Tuesday, keeping Mack under contract with the school through 2022-23.

“I am excited about the future of our program and proud to be the head coach of my alma mater,” Mack said in a statement released by the school. “Xavier is a special place. It is especially gratifying to receive the support from the entire Xavier Community and my hometown of Cincinnati.

“We have lofty goals for our basketball program and that ongoing support will be a big key to reaching our goals.”

Xavier is coming off an Elite Eight appearance in the seventh NCAA tournament berth in Mack’s eight seasons at the helm. He enters 2017-18 just 17 wins shy of taking the top spot in Xavier’s record book for most wins. He’s currently 186-91 overall at Xavier.

“There is plenty to celebrate, especially coming off of an Elite Eight season,” Xavier athletic director Greg Christopher said in a statement, “and the future looks even brighter. Chris is clearly the right leader for Xavier and I know that he and his staff are not satisfied. Chris has proven himself as one of the elite coaches in college basketball.”

Without a raise or a change in buyout language or dollars, the extension is pretty standard operating procedure for a coach with the ties to a university and the success that’s been achieved by Mack. He’s going to continue to be floated as a potential candidate to midwestern blue bloods – like he was with Ohio State and Indiana this year – but it keeps negative recruiting about his future to a minimum. Mack has the chops to win anywhere, but if he keeps doing it at this high level at his alma mater, it’s hard to picture anything but the most desirable of jobs prying him away sometime in the future.

Xavier lands grad transfer forward Bernard

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While many of the key contributors to a team that was Villanova’s greatest threat in the Big East return, Xavier has some holes to fill in the rebounding department. With James Farr and Jalen Reynolds both moving on, the Musketeers will have to account for the loss of their top two rebounders as the 2016-17 season approaches. Trevon Blueitt, who averaged 6.1 rebounds per game last season, is back, but others including Norfolk State transfer RaShid Gaston and Sean O’Mara will have to step forward for Chris Mack’s team.

Another option is 6-foot-5 forward Malcolm Bernard. Bernard, who played last season at Florida A&M after spending his first two seasons at Charleston Southern, announced Monday that he will join the Xavier program as a graduate student. He’ll be eligible to compete immediately as a result, with one season of eligibility remaining.

As a redshirt junior at Florida A&M Bernard averaged 14.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, doing the majority of his damage inside of the arc despite playing at a listed weight of just 195 pounds. Bernard also averaged 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game for the Rattlers in 2015-16. Adding a capable rebounder on the wing will help the Musketeers as they look to not only chase down the reigning national champions but also go further in the NCAA tournament than they did last season.

Xavier will return four starters from a team that won 28 games, and went 14-4 in Big East play, before losing to Wisconsin at the buzzer in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Xavier reserve guard Larry Austin Jr. to transfer

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Thursday morning Xavier head coach Chris Mack announced that sophomore guard Larry Austin Jr. has decided to transfer from the Big East program. The 6-foot-2 guard becomes the second player to decide to transfer since the end of the season, with forward Makinde London being the first.

Austin played just under ten minutes per game this season, averaging 1.8 points and 1.1 assists per contest in a backcourt that included Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis and J.P. Macura. And with all three due to return next season, Austin likely would have found the going tough with regards to earning more playing time.

Xavier is awaiting the decisions of Trevon Bluiett and Jalen Reynolds, with both currently going through the NBA pre-Draft process without hiring an agent. Should both return, the Musketeers will be viewed as the biggest threat to reigning national champion Villanova atop the Big East.

Seton Hall beats No. 5 Xavier 87-83 in Big East semifinal

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NEW YORK (AP) Khadeen Carrington had 23 points and seven rebounds to lead Seton Hall to an 87-83 win over fifth-ranked Xavier for the Pirates’ first Big East Tournament title game appearance since 1993, 2 1/2 years before he was born.

Fellow sophomore Isaiah Whitehead added 20 points and eight assists in Friday’s semifinal as third-seeded Seton Hall beat the Musketeers for the second time in less than two weeks.

The Pirates face third-ranked Villanova in Saturday’s championship game.

Seton Hall led by as many as 17 points in the first half, beating the Musketeers to loose balls and converting steals into easy baskets. And when Xavier made a second-half run, Whitehead kept answering with big plays.

Angel Delgado scored 15 points for Seton Hall (24-8). Edmond Sumner led the second-seeded Musketeers (27-5) with 21 points.

With the score tied 13-13 just over seven minutes in, Derrick Gordon scored on two straight fast-break layups to spark a 21-4 Seton Hall run. After Carrington hit a jumper, the Pirates got two offensive rebounds on their next possession, with Michael Nzei slamming home the second. Moments later, Gordon’s steal led to a fast-break layup by Carrington, who then hit two consecutive 3-pointers.

Xavier went scoreless for three minutes during the spurt as Seton Hall, which is headed to its first NCAA Tournament in a decade, built a 34-17 lead.

Seton Hall scored 15 points off takeaways in the first half. The Musketeers had more turnovers (12) than field goals (nine) at the break.

Xavier had nine field goals in the first eight minutes of the second half and started to fluster the Pirates with its 1-3-1 zone. But the Musketeers never got within one possession thanks to Whitehead. He hit a 3-pointer after they pulled within five with more than 12 minutes left, and two possessions later, after Xavier had climbed within four, he spun through the lane for another clutch basket.

He then blocked the shot of Sean O’Mara, who is 6 inches taller, as Seton Hall started to pull back away, aided by missed four missed free throws by the Musketeers.

Xavier shot 8 of 30 on 3-pointers.

The Musketeers made a late run and had a chance to pull within four with 21 seconds left, but Kaiser Gates hit 1 of 2 free throws. They then nearly got a steal, but Gordon was able to corral the ball and was fouled.

Double technical fouls were twice called in the second half.

TIP-INS

Seton Hall: Gordon, the Pirates’ lone senior, is their only player who was born before their last Big East final appearance. He had 10 points and three steals Friday. … Seton Hall had a whopping 25 turnovers but shot 51.8 percent from the field and held Xavier to 34.9 percent.

Xavier: Myles Davis went down hard when he got his layup blocked early in the second half, but he came back in after a brief rest. … Actor Bill Murray, whose son Luke is an assistant coach for the Musketeers, again sat behind the bench in an “X” cap. … Xavier was seeking to reach the final for the second straight season.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall faces third-ranked Villanova in Saturday’s championship game.

Xavier appears headed to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 5 Xavier advances to Big East semis with a 90-72 win

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NEW YORK (AP) Trevon Bluiett matched his career high with 24 points and No. 5 Xavier dominated from start to finish in a 90-72 victory over Marquette on Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

The Musketeers took advantage of foul trouble by Marquette star center Henry Ellenson to have a big advantage in points in the paint early and finished with a 42-32 difference.

Xavier (27-4) advanced to Friday’s semifinals to face the winner of third-seeded Seton Hall and sixth-seeded Creighton.

It will be the Musketeers second straight trip to the semifinals. They lost to Villanova in last season’s championship game.

JaJuan Johnson had 19 points to lead the Golden Eagles (20-13), who have reached the semifinals twice (2008, 2010) but they have never made it to the championship game. They beat St. John’s 101-93 in the opening round.

This was the third time Xavier beat Marquette this season with the first two both decided by eight points.

Xavier opened on an 11-2 run with Ellenson, the conference’s freshman of the year and its leading rebounder, picking up his second foul just 3 minutes into the game. He was taken out of the game but when Xavier started having its way inside and took a 15-4 lead, he was back with 14:20 left in the half. The Golden Eagles went to a 2-3 zone to try and keep him from picking up another foul but it didn’t work.

Ellenson, who finished with 14 points and three rebounds, scored eight straight points for Marquette as the Golden Eagles drew within 26-21. With 2:44 left in the half Ellenson and Bluiett got tangled up near midcourt and both went down to the court. An official review found that Ellenson tripped Bluiett and he was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul – his third.

Bluiett’s free throw and J.P. Macura’s 3 on the ensuing possession were part of a 13-0 run that gave the Musketeers a 43-25 lead and Macura hit a long 3 with 4 seconds left to give Xavier a 46-30 lead.

Xavier shot 59.4 percent (19 of 32) in the half while the Golden Eagles were 11 of 32 (34.4 percent).

The Musketeers opened the second half on a 10-3 run and the rout was on with Xavier leading by as many as 28 points. The closest Marquette got was 17 points.

TIP-INS:

Marquette: The Golden Eagles entered the game first in the conference in steals (7.8) and they are second in assists (16.3). … The 101 points against St. John’s in the opening round was the first time the Golden Eagles broke the century against a Big East opponent. They joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season.

Xavier: The Musketeers entered the game first in the conference in assists (16.4) and they are second in steals (7.2). … Myles Davis leads the Big East in free throw shooting percentage (85.9). … Seven players have led the Musketeers in scoring in at least two games this season. … Chris Mack was named national coach of the year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

UP NEXT:

Marquette: good enough for an NIT bid.

Xavier: faces the winner of Creighton-Seton Hall in the semifinals on Friday.

No. 5 Xavier beats No. 1 Villanova, displays tools needed for deep tourney run

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Since joining the Big East in 2013 No. 5 Xavier amassed a record of 34 wins and 16 losses against teams other than No. 1 Villanova. Their record against the Wildcats: 0-6, with an average margin of defeat of 17.2 points per game. For as much as was made about the impact of Wednesday’s game on NCAA tournament seeding, this was more about Chris Mack’s team getting over the hump against the program that has set the standard in the Big East since realignment.

Xavier got the job done at the Cintas Center, winning 90-83 in a game that changed when reserve guard JP Macura checked into the game.

Macura provided the Musketeers a spark on both ends of the floor, going on a personal 7-0 run in a contest that went back and forth for the game’s first eight minutes. Xavier’s ability to attack offensively from multiple areas, be it from the guard spots, the wings or the post, proved problematic for a Villanova team that’s been better defensively this season than they were in either of the two seasons prior.

Edmond Sumner and the rest of the Xavier guards took better care of the basketball than they did in the first meeting, a 31-points Wildcat victory (Sumner left that game after just two minutes due to injury). Sumner’s had issues with turnovers at times this season, but that wasn’t the case against a Villanova perimeter rotation that can get after teams with its 3/4-court pressure. Sumner turned the ball over just three times, and with nine assists (not to mention 19 points and six rebounds) to his credit that’s a good number for the redshirt freshman.

As a team Xavier committed just ten turnovers, nearly half the number they racked up New Year’s Eve (19). Overall the Musketeer guards outplayed Villanova’s backcourt, with Macura adding 19 points and Myles Davis 16 as Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono got off to slow starts. Villanova received a high-level performance from forward Kris Jenkins, who scored 19 points in the first half. But once he ran into foul trouble in the second stanza, by way of having to deal with the likes of Jalen Reynolds and James Farr inside (Daniel Ochefu struggling didn’t help, either), Villanova lost the one player who managed to make things happen offensively.

Some may look to use this result as an “I told you so” opportunity in regards to Villanova. Sure they won’t be able to do much about the recently formed perception of their program, which is viewed with skepticism as their last two NCAA tournament appearances have taken precedence over Jay Wright’s past achievements (Sweet 16 in 2005 and 2008, Elite 8 in 2006 and Final Four in 2009), until the NCAA tournament. But this is still a team, especially in this particular season, capable of playing deep into March given their experience and talent.

Wednesday night was more about Xavier, which showed the attributes of a team capable of going where no prior group of Musketeers have gone before. Chris Mack’s team is talented, and it is deep as well. Xavier played unselfishly against Villanova, with 24 of their 30 made field goals being assisted and six players scoring in double figures. Add in a defense that took away many of Villanova’s primary scoring options, thus forcing the Wildcats to call upon Jenkins, and Xavier managed to do enough to not only make a statement of its national capabilities but also keep their Big East title hopes alive.

And even though Xavier didn’t need much of a confidence boost, if there’s a “Round 3” at Madison Square Garden in a couple weeks they now have concrete evidence that they can get over the hump that is Villanova.