ORLANDO — There was nothing spectacular about Quentin Goodin’s statistics on 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 per game 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 jump-started 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-to-back threes to push a lead that had been stuck at 55-45 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 now 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.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.