Xavier’s new point guard has be­come the X-fac­tor

The Washington Post Sunday - - NCAA TOURNAMENT - sports@wash­post.com For more by John Fe­in­stein, visit wash­ing­ton­post.com/fe­in­stein.

or­lando — There was noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar about Quentin Goodin’s statis­tics Satur­day night at Amway Cen­ter. The stars of Xavier’s stun­ning 91-66 rout of third-seeded Flor­ida State in the NCAA tour­na­ment West Re­gion were, with­out doubt, Trevon Blui­ett, who poured in 29 points; Kaiser Gates, who came off the bench to make 4 of 5 shots from three-point range; and Tyrique Jones, who had 13 points and made 6 of 7 shots from the field.

To a man though, the Mus­ke­teers were in­sis­tent that they wouldn’t be headed to the Sweet 16 if not for Goodin.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever met a kid who’s a bet­ter learner,” said Mal­colm Bernard, a grad­u­ate stu­dent who is al­most four years older than Goodin. “He’s had to learn on the job since Edmond got hurt, and he’s just soaked in knowledge ev­ery sin­gle day. Now it’s pay­ing off.”

Edmond is point guard Edmond Sum­ner, who was av­er­ag­ing 15 points and 4.3 as­sists be­fore he went down with a torn an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment on Jan. 29 in a game against St. John’s. Sud­denly, Goodin, his fresh­man backup, had the ball in his hands.

“He went from be­ing the backup quar­ter­back to the start­ing quar­ter­back just like that,” Coach Chris Mack said. “If it had been pre­sea­son, we’d have some time to help him ad­just. But it wasn’t. He had to take the ball and be the leader on the court. That’s not easy.”

At first, Goodin made it look easy. Xavier won three straight games with his min­utes go­ing from about 14 per game to 34. But then, dur­ing a 73-57 loss at Vil­lanova, Blui­ett turned an an­kle and missed the rest of that game and the next two — both losses. Three losses in a row be­came four in a row and then five and six. All of a sud­den Xavier was in jeop­ardy of miss­ing the NCAA tour­na­ment for just the sec­ond time in 12 sea­sons.

Af­ter an em­bar­rass­ing 83-61 loss to Mar­quette, Bernard de­cided the play­ers needed to meet. No coaches. “I think that can be a good thing,” Mack said. “It’s good for them to hear other voices. I talk all sea­son.”

Bernard had trans­ferred to Xavier this sea­son af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Flor­ida A&M largely to have a chance to play in the NCAA tour­na­ment. “I told them I didn’t come here to watch March Mad­ness on tele­vi­sion,” he said. “I told them we needed to have each other’s backs. No so­cial me­dia. Just stick to­gether.” He smiled. “And stop los­ing.”

Blui­ett got healthy. Goodin’s con­fi­dence grew, and he be­gan to run the of­fense much more ef­fec­tively.

“I have to say, it sucked dur­ing the los­ing streak,” Goodin said. “I think we were all feel­ing some pres­sure. But we got it to­gether at the right time, and, well, here we are.”

They fi­nally stopped the bleed­ing with back-to-back wins over DePaul — one to end the reg­u­lar sea­son, the other to start the Big East tour­na­ment. But it was a win over But­ler in the quar­ter­fi­nals that jump­started them again.

“At least then, we knew we were in,” Blui­ett said. “We kept hear­ing we were get­ting in any­way, but that win was im­por­tant. Even when we lost close [75-72] to Creighton the next night, we knew we were okay.”

They were okay enough to be seeded 11th in the West, avoid the Day­ton play-in and draw Mary­land in the first round. A 14-0 sec­ond-half run keyed their win over the Ter­rap­ins and set up Satur­day’s match with the Semi­noles — a team that reached sixth in the polls dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, a team blessed with great size and depth.

Nat­u­rally, the Mus­ke­teers used their low seed — de­served or not — as a ral­ly­ing point. “We knew no­body was pick­ing us,” Goodin said. “We def­i­nitely used that for mo­ti­va­tion.”

The game be­gan with Flor­ida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes hit­ting a three-pointer on FSU’s first pos­ses­sion of the game. Xavier went to a zone — and stayed in it. The Semi­noles then missed their next 12 threes, fac­ing a Xavier team that nor­mally plays zone only “as a backup plan,” ac­cord­ing to Goodin. By the time P.J. Savoy broke the missed-threes skein with 8:55 left in the game, the Mus­ke­teers led 69-50.

“We knew they were very quick, very fast and very big,” Goodin said. “We knew we were go­ing to play some zone be­cause of that, and for­tu­nately for us, it worked very well. We kept them away from the bas­ket, and their shots weren’t go­ing in.”

Flor­ida State fin­ished 4 for 21 from out­side the three-point line. Xavier made 11 of 17 and blew the game open when J.P. Macura and Gates hit back-to­back threes to push a lead that had been stuck at 10 for sev­eral min­utes to 61-45. An­other Gates three a mo­ment later made it 66-46, and the rest of the night was a stroll for Xavier.

Goodin’s stat line read like this: six points on 2-for-8 shoot­ing, five as­sists and two turnovers. The last — the two turnovers in 34 min­utes against a team that pressed and trapped for most of the game — was the most im­por­tant stat of the night.

“You can see him get­ting more con­fi­dent with ev­ery game,” Blui­ett said. “Get­ting thrown in like that, es­pe­cially re­plac­ing some­one as good as Edmond, was hard. But he never backed away from it at all.”

Goodin ad­mit­ted it was difficult at first to find him­self in charge of an ex­pe­ri­enced team. “Some­times ju­niors and se­niors don’t want to take or­ders from a fresh­man,” he said, grin­ning. “But the guys were be­hind [me] from the be­gin­ning.”

Mack wasn’t thrilled — to say the least — when Sum­ner went down, but he had con­fi­dence that Goodin had a chance to han­dle the pres­sure sud­denly heaped on him.

“The good news was when we had played him be­hind Edmond was that he was good de­fen­sively,” Mack said. “That’s not al­ways the case with a fresh­man. So we felt pretty good about that. The key was get­ting him to run the of­fense with some con­fi­dence.

“He had ups and downs, as you might ex­pect. But you know what, some­times you have to fail. He learned from it. The kid de­serves a lot of credit.”

Goodin has been the start­ing point guard for 15 games. He had nine as­sists in the win over Mary­land and five more Satur­day night. Ev­ery­one in the Xavier locker room knows he has to keep im­prov­ing if Xavier is go­ing to keep win­ning. This is the sixth time in 10 sea­sons the Mus­ke­teers have reached the Sweet 16.

A year ago, Xavier was 27-5 head­ing into the tour­na­ment and a No. 2 seed in the East Re­gion be­fore be­ing up­set in the sec­ond round by Wis­con­sin when Bron­son Koenig hit a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 66-63 win.

“That was the tough­est locker room I’ve ever been in,” Mack said. “We’d had a great sea­son, and to end it like that was re­ally, re­ally tough. We dealt with a lot of ad­ver­sity this sea­son, but we man­aged to bounce back to get to this point.”

He smiled. “The feel­ing in the locker room tonight was as sweet as the feel­ing a year ago was bit­ter.”

And it couldn’t have hap­pened with­out the fresh­man who had to fail first, then suc­ceed at just the right time.

ROB CARR/GETTY IM­AGES

Quentin Goodin has helped save the Mus­ke­teers’ sea­son af­ter tak­ing the place of in­jured point guard Edmond Sum­ner.

John Fe­in­stein

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.