Sunday, March 21, 2004

XU seeks new 2nd-round tune

Muskies tired of losing Sweet 16 berth

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ORLANDO, Fla. - It is becoming repetitive, this second-round appearance Xavier has made in the NCAA Tournament three years in a row now.

That's a good thing.

But what's not so chest-pounding worthy is what Xavier has done in this position the previous two years, ending its season with decisive losses to major-conference teams.

The stakes are the same today for seventh-seeded Xavier (24-10) when it plays No. 2 seed Mississippi State (26-3) at 12:10 p.m. at T.D. Waterhouse Centre. For the third straight season, the Musketeers are on the brink of the regional semifinals, this time with a group of seniors and a coach feeling the pressure to get there.

"A lot of people don't understand how hard it is to win in the NCAA Tournament," said Xavier coach Thad Matta, who is 0-2 at Xavier in second-round games, but 3-0 in the first round after Friday's win against Louisville. "So I couldn't be prouder of what our guys have accomplished. But I think a trip to the Sweet 16 would be a tremendous boost for us."

Xavier seniors Romain Sato, Lionel Chalmers and Anthony Myles have been building toward a second-round win since Xavier lost last season to 2002 defending national champion Maryland. The year before it was No. 2 seed Oklahoma that took down Xavier and eventually advanced to the Final Four.

"We talk about it that we're tired of losing in the second round," Sato said. "Now we have a chance again to get past the second round. We have to be focused. We don't want to always end in the second round."

Xavier's only Sweet 16 appearance came in 1990. Chalmers and Sato, in their fourth NCAA Tournament, are the only Xavier players to win three straight first-round games. The second round has been troublesome, in part because of unfortunate matchups.

"It's funny how the game works," Matta said. "We were seconds away last year from playing UNC-Wilmington to go to the Sweet 16. But (Maryland's Drew Nicholas) hits the runner from 30-feet to go. I'm just waiting to catch a break in this damn Tournament."

Drawing Mississippi State in the second round could hardly be characterized as "catching a break." MSU has lost only three games and won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title.

All-American big man Lawrence Roberts led the Bulldogs to a school-best No. 2 seed averaging 17.1 points and 10.2 rebounds. Xavier has never defeated a No. 2 seed.

The Musketeers lost their last two games against Mississippi State, the most recent coming Dec. 13 in Starkville, Miss. In a rare regular-season rematch in the NCAA Tournament, two significantly different teams will meet here tonight.

"I am sure they have somewhat of a revenge factor for this game," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. "But at this point of the season, there really is no revenge factor."

Xavier has moved freshmen Justin Doellman and Justin Cage into the starting lineup since the December game, and Mississippi State replaced 7-footer Marcus Campbell with 6-foot-5 shooting guard Shane Power. Xavier has won 14 of its last 15 games and Mississippi State has won 13 of its last 15.

Today, the only thing that matters is whether Xavier's players are good enough to get past the second round.

"I'm hoping they have a great understanding of what it takes to win in this round," Matta said. "Last year Maryland jumped on us like a team that had just won the national championship. Are we able to combat that with how good Mississippi State is? That's what you hope."

No. 7 Xavier vs. No. 2 Miss. State

Tipoff: 12:10 p.m. today, T.D. Waterhouse Centre, Orlando (17,248).

Records: Xavier 24-10; Mississippi State 26-3.

Radio: WKRC-AM (550).

TV: CBS (Ch. 12).

Series: MSU leads 3-0.

Line: MSU by 4 1/2.


Player Yr. Ht. PPG
Justin Cage Fr. 6-6 4.6
Anthony Myles Sr. 6-9 10.5
Justin Doellman Fr. 6-9 7.1
Lionel Chalmers Sr. 6-0 16.2
Romain Sato Sr. 6-5 16.3
Coach: Thad Matta (76-22, 3rd year; 100-30 overall).

Mississippi State

Player Yr. Ht. PPG
Lawrence Roberts Jr. 6-9 17.1
Shane Power Jr. 6-5 9.5
Branden Vincent Sr. 6-8 7.3
Timmy Bowers Sr. 6-2 15.0
Winsome Frazier Sr. 6-4 3.2
Coach: Rick Stansbury (126-63, 6th year; same overall).

41.6Opp. FG%40.7
29.5Opp. 3-pt.%34.7
2.3Reb margin8.2
1.4TO margin.9



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