Sean O’Mara had a career night, and Trevon Bluiett was unstoppable in the second half. Those were the two driveforces in No. 11 Xavier’s 76-65 win over No. 6 Maryland in a first round matchup from Orlando.
Maryland held a slim 36-35 lead at halftime. Bluiett, Xavier’s most important player, was quiet through the first 20 minutes. He was 1-of-8 from the field for three points. He opened up the second half by making his first six attempts from the field, four of which were from beyond the arc. He ended with a game-high 21 points, 18 coming after halftime. O’Hara had a career-high 18 points, 13 of which came in the first half.
Bluiett led a 14-2 run, turning a three-point deficit into a 61-50 lead. With Melon Trimble, one of the best closers in college basketball, at Maryland’s disposal, the Terrapins still had enough time to make a final run. However, the Musketeers had a counter every time they made a push, as they kept the lead no smaller than six for the final 10 minutes of regulation.
Xavier limped into New York City last week for the Big East Tournament. The X-men had lost seven straight games to close out the regular season and until a quarterfinal win over Butler, the only team it had beaten in more than a month was DePaul. In that win over the Bulldogs, Bluiett scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half.
This year for the Musketeers has been a rollercoaster. They entered a consensus top-20 team, but then moved closer and closer to the bubble following Edmond Sumner’s season-ending knee injury. Xavier has gone from a contender to an underdog in the span of five months. But isn’t that the role Chris Mack’s team has performed well in? He did make a pair of Sweet 16 appearances as an overlooked Atlantic 10 program.
Either way, when Bluiett is on, like he was in Madison Square Garden or like he was Thursday night in the first round, Xavier has a puncher’s chance to make the second weekend.