NEW YORK (AP) — Just when it appeared Xavier was about to collapse, the Musketeers found their stroke at the free throw line.
Matt Stainbrook had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Xavier finally hit the foul shots it needed to hold off a furious rally by No. 23 Georgetown and secure a 65-63 victory Friday night in the Big East Tournament semifinals.
“I feel like, if we played 3 more minutes, we might have lost by 17,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “I don’t think it’s anything other than we missed some free throws. You can’t stop momentum if you can’t score.”
After struggling at the foul line while the second-seeded Hoyas (21-10) whittled a 21-point deficit to one, the Musketeers made five of six in the final 10.3 seconds to hold on. Trevon Bluiett drained a big 3-pointer for the second consecutive night, and Xavier advanced to the championship game in just its second season in the conference.
The sixth-seeded Musketeers (21-12) will play top-seeded and fourth-ranked Villanova for the crown Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
“We didn’t come here to beat Georgetown. We came here to win a Big East championship. So that’s our plan,” senior guard Dee Davis said.
Xavier led by 20 with 7:53 remaining when a scrum under the basket led to a technical foul on Musketeers forward Jalen Reynolds, who feigned winding up for a punch as he showed coach Chris Mack what he had done when he returned to the huddle.
That helped the Hoyas get started on a 15-1 run as Xavier, the top free throw-shooting team in the Big East, missed six of seven from the line.
Georgetown freshman Isaac Copeland sparked the rally, scoring 11 points in a little more than four minutes. A driving layup by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera trimmed the deficit to 60-59 with 14.7 seconds left.
But the Musketeers would not fold. Davis sank two foul shots and Myles Davis added two more, making it 64-61 with 4.6 seconds to go.
Jabril Trawick, who led the Hoyas with 19 points, hit his first free throw with 1.9 seconds on the clock and was supposed to miss the second on purpose. But he made it by accident, shaking his head along with coach John Thompson III after the ball dropped right through.
“We have enough trouble practicing making, so I can honestly say we never practiced missing,” Thompson said.
James Farr hit a foul shot at the other end, and when he missed his second attempt Georgetown was unable to get off a desperation heave in time.
With the shot clock about to expire, Bluiett nailed a 3 from the corner with 3:30 left to stop Georgetown’s 15-1 spurt and extend Xavier’s lead to 57-48. The freshman hit a tying 3 with about 2 1/2 minutes remaining Thursday night, the final points in regulation before the Musketeers went into overtime with No. 22 Butler.
“We just wanted to make sure we kept our team calm. We weren’t going to implode on ourself,” Stainbrook said.
It was Xavier’s third victory this season over a ranked Georgetown team. The Musketeers won both regular-season meetings, by 17 points and then 13.
Remy Abell scored 10 points for Xavier, and Dee Davis had eight assists.
Copeland finished with 15 points, and Smith-Rivera scored 11 on 3-of-9 shooting. The star guard was 1 for 6 from 3-point range.
“It’s not easy to come back from down 20 like we were. It shows we have a lot of heart,” Copeland said.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
In a nod to the glory days of Big East big men, Stainbrook (270 pounds) and Georgetown center Joshua Smith (350 pounds) spent much of the night banging into each other down low with their 6-foot-10 bodies as both teams looked to feed the post.
Unmistakable in his tinted goggles, the plodding Stainbrook got the best of it.
With an array of soft hooks and short bank shots, he went 8 of 13 from the field during his second strong performance in two nights at the Garden. The senior had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Butler in the quarterfinals, helping Xavier rally for a 67-61 victory in overtime.
Xavier: Freshman guard J.P. Macura came off the bench and scored eight points in the first half, swishing a pair of 3-pointers. But about 40 seconds after his second one gave Xavier its first lead, Macura appeared to step on an opponent’s foot and he went down writhing in pain with a sprained ankle. He was helped up by Mack and taken to the locker room. Macura did not return. “I don’t think it looks good, to be honest with you, for tomorrow,” Mack said. “The X-rays were negative, which is a good thing. But in terms of when he gets back on the floor, I couldn’t tell you.” … Xavier is 6-2 against Top 25 teams, the most wins in school history in one season.
Georgetown: The Hoyas were 5 for 19 (26 percent) from 3-point territory after going a combined 8 for 35 (23 percent) during the first two matchups with Xavier.
Xavier: The Musketeers lost both regular-season meetings to Villanova (31-2) by double digits.
Georgetown: Waiting on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.