Xavier 71, Troy State 59
The Xavier Musketeers marched into the NCAA tournament with their highest seed in school history (No. 3) as a reward for their 25-victory season and Atlantic 10 regular season championship.
But in the eye of bracket prognosticators, their chief vulnerability was a razor-thin bench that most felt would prove their undoing if opponents could only wear down the starting five -- particularly national player of the year hopeful David West, whose presence in the lineup has been as essential as a beating pulse.
In defeating No. 14 seed Troy State, 71-59, in tonight's first-round game at Gaylord Entertainment Center, Xavier not only earned a meeting Sunday with sixth-seeded Maryland, it also proved there's more to the Musketeers than West, the imposing power forward who idled most of the first half after drawing two fouls nine minutes into the game.
With West on the bench, the Musketeers drew on reserves to build a 37-22 first-half lead, out-muscling Troy State with a powerful inside game while holding the Trojans to 27 percent shooting in the period.
"Everybody talks about West," Troy State Coach Don Maestri said. "But the tapes I've watched, I thought they were a very balanced basketball team. And they are."
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound West announced his return in emphatic terms, scoring the first basket of the second half. But he never truly found his rhythm again, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes of work.
Meantime, Lionel Chalmers -- one of two point guards in Xavier's starting lineup -- shouldered the bulk of scoring duties, leading the team with 20 points.
"We're going to have to be able to play without him," Chalmers said of West, who passed on the NBA draft a year ago to return for his senior season. "Hopefully he doesn't get in foul trouble any more. But we have to step up and make plays when he's out."
In an atypically poor shooting performance, the Musketeers missed 10 of their first 11 shots. Romain Sato (6-5, 205), an explosive small forward from the Central African Republic, hit just seven of 18 shots. But he compensated by supplying 11 of the team's 47 rebounds.
Xavier Coach Thad Matta called it a "scary" game, given Troy State's ability to make three-pointers. And as he watched his players struggle to find their shooting touch, he stressed defense and rebounding above all.
Troy State was pesky down the stretch tonight, narrowing the deficit to eight points with about three minutes left. But West's poise and presence helped squelch the rally, as he grabbed key rebounds and slowed the up-tempo game that Troy State favors.