GREENSBORO, N.C — Terrell Burden got a shoulder past his defender and pushed into the paint, locking in on the rim for a chance to move Kennesaw State within reach of its first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
Instead, Xavier’s Jack Nunge descended on him to make the play that capped the Musketeers’ late defensive surge — and saved their season.
Nunge blocked 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 Friday’s first round.
The 7-footer’s block was part of the reason the Owls shot 2-for-15 over the final 9 1/2 minutes, reversing the momentum in a game that had often left third-seeded Xavier (26-9) looking befuddled.
“We didn’t really change much, and that’s oftentimes the story,” said coach Sean Miller, back for his second stint with the Musketeers. “We just did what we do better.”
Souley Boum hit four clinching free throws in the final 2.6 seconds for the Musketeers, 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 — made his move into the paint. But Nunge rotated over and swatted the ball into the backboard.
“In the timeout, we were supposed to switch everything,” Nunge said, adding: “He’s a really good driver at getting to the rim and I just came over and blocked it.”
Burden said everything with the play ran as designed until Nunge’s arrival.
“It was a great play by him to meet me at the rim,” Burden said.
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.
Jerome Hunter scored a career-best 24 points to lead the Musketeers, while Boum had 17. Nunge had 10 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Burden and Chris Youngblood each scored 14 points to lead Kennesaw State, which appeared on the verge of a signature March moment, playing with an aggressive edge while backed by vocal pockets of fans. At one point, the 5-10 Burden got Nunge on a switch, pulled him outside and blew past him for a layup and a 61-48 lead.
But that’s when Xavier started its desperate push back — and Nunge was ready when Burden challenged him again.
“We did some things early on both ends of the court that helped build that 13-point lead,” Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdur-Rahim said. “But if anybody in that building thought that was going to be how the game stayed, you hadn’t watched much basketball in March — and you probably haven’t watched much basketball in general.”
Pittsburgh 59, Iowa 41
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Nelly Cummings scored 13 points and No. 11 seed Pittsburgh (24-11) held sixth-seeded Iowa State (19-14) to 23% shooting.
Kentucky 61, Providence 53
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Antonio Reeves scored 22 points and Oscar Tshiebwe pulled down 25 rebounds in an overpowering display, helping sixth-seeded Kentucky (22-11) beat 11th-seeded Providence (21-12).
Fairleigh Dickinson 63, Purdue 58
COLUMBUS — Fairleigh Dickinson became the second No. 16 seed in history to win an NCAA Tournament game, stunning top-seeded Purdue behind 19 points from Sean Moore and a relentless, hustling defense.
The shortest team in the tourney, the Knights (21-15) showed no fear in swarming 7-foot-4 All-America center Zach Edey from the start. FDU’s players were quicker and more composed than the Big Ten champion Boilermakers (29-6).
Five years ago, UMBC showed the way for the little guys by overwhelming Virginia in the first 16-over-1 victory after numerous close calls over the years. Still, No. 16s had a 1-150 record against No. 1s and were 1-151 overall before FDU’s shocker.
Michigan State 72, USC 62
COLUMBUS — Joey Hauser scored 17 points and No. 7 seed Michigan State (20-12) clamped down defensively on No. 10 seed USC (22-11).
COLUMBUS — Kam Jones scored 18 of his 19 points in the second half as second-seeded Marquette (29-6) beat No. 15 Vermont (23-11).
St. Mary’s 63, VCU 51
ALBANY, N.Y. — Mitchell Saxen had 17 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and Saint Mary’s (27-7) beat ailing VCU (27-8).
Alex Ducas also scored 17 points for the fifth-seeded Gaels. Ace Baldwin led 12-seeded VCU with 13 points, but he appeared to sprain his right ankle on his landing after taking a jumper with just over 14 minutes left in regulation.
UConn 87, Iona 63
ALBANY, N.Y. — Adama Sanogo scored 10 of his 28 points in the first five minutes of the second half as fourth-seeded UConn (26-8) took control and beat Rick Pitino’s 13th-seeded Iona Gaels (27-8).
Miami 63, Drake 56
ALBANY, N.J. — Nijel Pack scored 21 points — including the go-ahead jumper and a pair of free throws in the final minute — to rally No. 5 seeded Miami (26-7) past Drake (27-8).
UC Santa Barbara 56
DENVER — Caleb Lohner scored a season-best 13 points in just 18 minutes, and No. 3 seed Baylor (23-10) beat 14th-seeded UC Santa Barbara (27-8).
NC State 63
DENVER — Ryan Kalkbrenner scored a career-high 31 points and sixth-seeded Creighton (22-12) overcame an abysmal 3-point shooting day to fend off No. 11 seed North Carolina State (23-11).
Gonzaga 82, Grand Canyon 70
DENVER — Slow-starting third-seeded Gonzaga (29-5) finally started playing like a title contender, then wore out 14th-seeded Grand Canyon (24-12) behind 28 points and 10 rebounds from Julian Strawther.