Writer: Stewart Mandel
Post time: 8:55 p.m., Saturday
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Xavier point guard Drew Lavender had one word written on each of his black sneakers during Saturday's NCAA second-round game against Purdue: "Nope."
Nope, as in "not going to happen," as in "not going to bow out in the second round again" -- and certainly not in the same heart-breaking fashion as befell the Musketeers a year ago against Ohio State, when they blew an eight-point lead in the final minutes and lost in overtime.
"The Ohio State game was in our head the whole game [against Purdue]," Lavender said after Xavier pulled out an 85-78 victory. "Stanley [Burrell] and I talked about it at halftime. 'This isn't last year. We're not going out like that again."
For a brief moment in the second half, it appeared they might. After going up 60-50 with 8:33 left, the Boilermakers went on a 11-0 run to pull ahead 61-60. That the Musketeers didn't flinch was a credit to the 5-foot-7 Lavender, Xavier's undisputed spark-plug who finally returned to 100 percent this week after playing the last month of the regular season with a sprained ankle.
Shortly after regaining the lead on a B.J. Raymond three-point play, Lavender did what he does best: Drove the length of the floor for a lay-up to extend the lead to 65-61, then, with the shot clock about to expire, beating Purdue's press, driving to the hoop and dishing to C.J. Anderson for a buzzer-beating lay-in with 3:37 remaining.
"You can't press Drew Lavender when he's 100 percent," said Burrell. "He's [5-foot7]. He's going to zigzag right through you."
Purdue immediately called a timeout, upon which Lavender skipped to the bench with his arms raised above his shoulders. "That was kind of a back-breaker," said Lavender, who finished with 18 points and eight assists. "At that point, I was thinking about going to Phoenix."
For Xavier seniors Lavender (who transferred from Oklahoma three years ago), Burrell and Josh Duncan and fourth-year coach Sean Miller, that trip to the desert will be the latest milestone in a four-year ascension from no postseason (2004-05) to the NCAA first round ('06) to the second round ('07) to now, at least, the Sweet 16. In an interesting coincidence, they meet West Virginia, whose coach, Bob Huggins, led Xavier's arch-nemesis, Cincinnati, for 16 years.
"It's going to be a great storyline, but I can't really think about it right now," said Burrell. "This is a time to celebrate. How many times can you say, I'm going to the Sweet 16? I know I've never been."