GREENSBORO, N.C — Jack Nunge blocked Terrell Burden’s driving attempt at a go-ahead layup in the final seconds, and Xavier dug out of a 13-point hole against surprising Kennesaw State to escape with a 72-67 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
Souley Boum hit four clinching free throws in the final 2.6 seconds for the third-seeded Musketeers (26-9), who ran off 15 unanswered points as part of a game-ending 24-6 run. That was enough to turn away the 14th-seeded Owls (26-9) in the program’s first-ever March Madness game.
Xavier moves on to face either Iowa State or Pittsburgh on Sunday in the Midwest Region.
Xavier led 68-67 when Burden — who’d been successful all day with dribble penetration — turned into the paint past Jerome Hunter and appeared to have a path to the rim. The 7-foot Nunge moved over and swatted the ball into the backboard.
The ball eventually made its way to Boum, who hit two free throws with 2.6 seconds left for a 70-67 lead. The Owls had a chance to set up a 3-pointer for the tie, but that desperate play ended when Spencer Rodgers’ right foot landed on the sideline as he caught the inbound pass. Boum hit two more free throws, and the Musketeers could finally breathe.
There was plenty of tension along the way. That included Boum and teammate Adam Kunkel trading words on the court as the teams began a late timeout. The pair continued jawing across the bench until teammates stepped in.
Jerome Hunter scored 24 points to lead the Musketeers, while Boum had 17. Nunge had 10 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Kennesaw State made just two baskets in the final 9:57 as its chances of a signature March moment slipped away painfully. When it was over, coach Amir Abdur-Rahim gathered his team for a moment at midcourt before the Owls headed for the locker room while waving to their boisterous fans.
Burden and Chris Youngblood each scored 14 points to lead Kennesaw State.