It’s hard to beat a team three times in one year, but it’s even harder to beat a team three times in one year as the underdog.
Well, Xavier accomplished that feat Friday night.
The Musketeers (21-12, 9-9) beat No. 23 Georgetown, 65-63, in the Big East semifinals at Madison Square Garden and will advance to the final to play No. 4 Villanova (31-2, 16-2) on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
Xavier beat Georgetown twice in the regular season by a combined 30 points before holding on for a close win Friday. The Muskies led by 20 points with 7:53 remaining before Georgetown went on a 15-1 run, during which Xavier – the top free throw-shooting team in the Big East – missed six of seven from the line.
But in the end, the Muskies made them when they counted to win a classic.
“I don’t know how much I enjoyed watching the last six, seven minutes, but you’re exactly right,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “When it really, really truly mattered at the very end – when it was a one- or two-possession game – our guys stepped up. Myles Davis (and) Dee Davis hit some really, really big free throws. Fortunately, we were able to execute . . . and . . . in-bound the ball . . . and (earn) a very, very hard-earned victory.”
The Davis boys had an off-night shooting – they combined for nine points on 1-of-7 from the floor, including 0-of-5 from three – but it didn’t matter. That’s because senior center Matt Stainbrook played like the 6-10, 263-pounder he is, continually out-muscling Georgetown in the paint. Stainbrook had 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go with nine rebounds.
“He’s a very tough matchup,” Mack said. “Equally adept at scoring, he can also pass it, and what happens is you get caught in that predicament: Do we double him? If you don’t, he feels like he’s good enough to score on anybody in the country – and he is. When people double him, he’s also a really, really good out-of-the-post passer, and it create open shots for us. So we’re going to continue to play through Matt. Our team has really found a security blanket with him in the last couple years.”
Xavier’s bench was also up to the task. One night after outscoring Butler’s bench 25-0, the Muskies outscored Georgetown’s 21-8.
“We have a great bench,” Mack said. “We have a deeper team than we’ve had over the last two or three years. It really doesn’t matter who we start because we feel like the guys that come in are going to do the job just as well.”
Guard Remy Abell added 10 points for the Muskies, while (Dee) Davis had game-highs in assists (eight) and steals (three), helping an unranked Xavier team beat a ranked Georgetown team for the third time this season.
Up next: Villanova, which outlasted Providence, 63-61, on Friday.
“No. 1, they’ve got great players,” Mack said of Nova. “They share the ball extremely well and they play hard defensively. We’ve seen them up close and personal twice now.”
Xavier lost at Villanova, 88-75, on Jan. 14, and at home, 78-66, on Feb. 28.
“At their place, we weren’t in the game,” Mack said. “At our place, we felt it (was) anyone’s ball game until the last five minutes or so. But we’re going to have to play 40 minutes – because I know Nova’s going to do the same. Every time you lace them up this time of year, the next challenge is going to be even greater. But hopefully we can draw on the experience we had tonight, make our free throws at a little bit higher clip and be a team that wins the Big East championship.”