JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — All the focus was on Georgia State’s bench because of Ron Hunter, the coach’s torn Achilles tendon, and the now famous stool he used to work the sidelines in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s was Xavier’s bench, though, that stole the show in a 75-67 win that sends the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 for the third time in six seasons under coach Chris Mack.
“It’s a great feeling,” senior point guard Dee Davis said after reserves Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis combined for 38 points to end the biggest feel-good story in the tourney.
Xavier shot 81 percent in the second half, making 13 of 16 shots. The Musketeers (23-13) were even better from the foul line, making 22 of 25 (88 percent) for the game.
“They almost had to play the perfect game,” said Ron Hunter, who wept during Georgia State’s post-game news conference.
“I thought our game plan was great. If they had just made a couple mistakes here and there, and they just didn’t,” Hunter added. “They beat us, We didn’t beat ourselves. We can walk away a little bit more proud.”
Xavier heads to Los Angeles for the West Regional semifinals. They’ll face No. 2 seed Arizona, who’s led by former Xavier coach Sean Miller.
Mack is a former Miller assistant.
“Sean gave me a heck of an opportunity to come back to my alma mater. He put a lot of responsibility and trust in me. He ultimately really pushed for me to become the head coach, and for that I’m eternally grateful,” Mack said.
“It’s hard to play against one of your best friends in the business,” Mack added. “But it really won’t matter to our guys, nor will it matter to Arizona, because those guys don’t know me from a bucket of paint.”
Georgia State (25-10) became tournament darlings with an improbable comeback that eliminated No. 3 seed Baylor.
Hunter was already a big story after tearing his left Achilles tendon celebrating his team winning the Sun Belt Conference title. He then enjoyed a father-son moment he’ll always cherish after R.J. Hunter won the game with a 30-foot shot that earned the Panthers a game against Xavier.
R.J. was outstanding again Saturday, scoring 20 points. But the junior, who faces a decision on whether to declare himself eligible for the NBA or return for another season under his father, didn’t get enough offensive support from his teammates.
Reynolds, meanwhile, dominated inside for Xavier, making 8 of 9 shots, scoring 21 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. Myles Davis made 5 of 8 3-pointers and finished with 17 points after making a pair of free throws for a 69-59 lead with 1:03 remaining.
Dee Davis made all three of his field goal attempts and went 6 for 6 from the foul line over the final 44 seconds to put the game away.
Hunter pulled R.J. from the game with 20 seconds left and stood to give his son a big bear hug with Georgia State fans rising to their feet to cheer the star player one more time.
“What a great week. Unbelievable week. There’s nothing to be sad about, especially for me,” Hunter said.
“We’ll be back. … But it’s not even about that now,” the coach added, turning to his son. “As a coach, best time of my life. But as a father — I love this kid, man. I love you.”
Georgia State overcame double-digit deficits twice in the Baylor win, so there was no panic when the Panthers fell behind in the first eight minutes Saturday night. Kevin Ware made two shots and Ryan Harrow, coming off the bench after missing the tourney opener because of a sore hamstring, hit 3-pointer during an 11-2 spurt that got the Sun Belt Conference champions back in the game.
When Xavier scored seven straight to threaten to pull away again, Harrow and Hunter both responded with 3-pointers from well beyond even the NBA’s arc to help the Panthers pull within 26-23. Hunter made another long 3 to trim the deficit to two before the Musketeers ended the half with a dunk that gave Reynolds 10 points and Xavier a 32-28 edge.
The Musketeers pulled away from a 38-38 tie with Myles Davis making a 3-pointer and Reynolds following with a dunk to put Xavier up by seven. Georgia State never recovered.
Ron Hunter had his cast replaced Friday after it cracked when he fell out of his chair celebrating R.J.’s game-winner in the round of 64. He made his way Saturday from the locker room to the bench on a scooter, stopping along the way to exchange high-fives with fans.
“I just told our guys in the locker room: ‘Man, if you’re crying, it’s tears of joy,” R.J. Hunter said. “Because we just turned the culture at Georgia State.”
Georgia State: Hunter’s chair sported a slightly new look with white athletic tape wrapped around the base and legs and green cushions on edge covering the wheels. … Harrow, the team’s second-leading scorer, has been slowed by his injury for two weeks, yet the Panthers had continued to find a way to win without him.
Xavier: The Musketeers also reached the Sweet 16 under coach Chris Mack in 2010 and 2012. It’s the seventh time they’ve done it overall.
Georgia State: Awaits decision whether R.J. Hunter will return for his senior season.
Xavier: Faces No. 2 seed Arizona in West Regional semifinals.
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