March Madness: Xavier overcomes 13-point deficit, avoids big upset of No. 14 seed Kennesaw State

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Jack Nunn made the Xavier play a must.

The Musketeers’ 7-foot Nunn came through a clutch block on Kennesaw State’s Terrell Burden to allow his team to escape the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 72-67 victory and become the latest high-seeded team Returns. Be troubled by the two-digit seed.

At the time of Nunge’s block, Xavier was leading 68–67 in the final seconds of the game. Burden had a pass to the rim that would give the underdog Owls a late lead, but Nunz slid to his left and made a massive defensive play.

It took a huge comeback for Javier to even get into that position.

The No. 3 seed Musketeers fell behind the No. 14 seed Owls at halftime and saw the deficit grow to 13 points midway through the second half.

But then Kennesaw State’s offense went cold. The Owls, playing their first NCAA tournament at the Division I level, missed 12 consecutive field goals in a span of eight minutes. During that drought by the Owls, Xavier went on a 15–0 scoring run to take the lead.

Even after that dry spell, Kennesaw State still had chances to win. A demanding Robinson jumper gave the Owls a 65–64 lead with 2:04 to play, but Xavier’s Adam Kunkel answered with a 3-pointer to put the Musketeers back in front 67–65.

On the ensuing possession, Kennesaw’s Kasen Jennings tied the score with an off-balance layup at the 1:22 mark, but Xavier ended up scoring the last five points of the to come away with the win.

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A Colby Jones free throw with 18 seconds left gave Xavier the lead, setting the scene for Nanz’s clutch block as the clock ticked down to five seconds. From there, Javier hit four more free throws to seal the five-point victory.

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA – MARCH 17: Adam Kunkel #5 of the Xavier Musketeers shoots a three point basket against the Kennesaw State Owls in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at The Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum on March 17. 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kennesaw State is almost done with the crisis

Under head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, Kennesaw State has come a long way in just a few seasons.

The school transitioned to the Division I level in 2005 and had never had a season with a record above . 500 prior to this year. In fact, the Owls posted a pathetic 1-28 record during the 2019-20 season under Abdur-Rahim’s first spell in charge.

Over the next two seasons, the Owls went a combined 18–37 in Atlantic Sun play with a 9–21 mark. But this season, the Owls shared the Atlantic Sun regular season crown with the Liberty before besting the Flames in the conference tournament.

And for most of Friday’s game, the Owls looked like the tougher, more determined team. Xavier jumped out to an early 20–11 lead, but the Owls came back to lead 43–36 at halftime.

Midway through the second half, Kennesaw State was looking well on its way to the first NCAA tournament victory in program history. Instead, Javier turned up the heat – especially on defense.

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As Xavier begins his comeback, the Owls’ attack stiffens and they find nothing to fall to. Meanwhile, the Stars of Xavier dominate. Jerome Hunter led the way with 24 points, while Nanz, Kunkel, Sauli Baum and Colby Jones all made plays to ensure the Musketeers didn’t go home early.

Pulling off the win, Javier avoided becoming the 23rd No. 3 seed to fall in the first round to the No. 14 seed. The most recent came in 2021 when Abilene Christian overtook Texas.