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Xavier stages furious rally to beat Kennesaw State in Owls’ first-ever NCAA Tournament game

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The Greensboro Coliseum was rocking for an early start between 14-seed Kennesaw State and 3-seed Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

In the school’s first-ever appearance in the tournament, the arena had a strong pro-Kennesaw State contingent, as fans of the Owls made the nearly six-hour drive from Kennesaw, Georgia, to Greensboro, North Carolina. 

Kennesaw State's Demond Robinson, bottom, battles for a loose ball during the first half of a first-round game against Xavier in the NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C. 

Kennesaw State’s Demond Robinson, bottom, battles for a loose ball during the first half of a first-round game against Xavier in the NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Xavier went on a 15-0 run late in the second half to take the lead, holding off Kennesaw State, 72-67, to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament

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After a day filled with major upsets, college basketball fans and those who made the trip were not disappointed by one of the first games of day two. 

Down 13 with just under 10 minutes to play, Xavier battled back, taking the lead with under five minutes to go. 

Xavier guard Colby Jones made one of two free throws with 16 seconds remaining in the game, and Kennesaw State was unable to get a shot off on its final two possessions, sending Xavier to the second round.

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After closing the first half on a 34-18 run, the Owls came out for the second half smelling upset, jumping all over Xavier with an 8-2 run to take a 51-38 lead. 

Xavier forward Jerome Hunter dunks against Kennesaw State during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C.

Xavier forward Jerome Hunter dunks against Kennesaw State during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

But the Musketeers got 24 points from senior Jerome Hunter, and five Xavier players finished in double figures. 

Despite the loss, it’s a major turnaround for Kennesaw State after it finished the 2019-2020 season 1-28. 

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Under head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, the Owls went 5-19 in 2020-21 and 13-18 in 2021-22, before winning the Atlantic Sun Conference championship and going 26-8 this season. 

Xavier head coach Sean Miller reacts during the first half of a first-round game against Kennesaw State in the NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C.

Xavier head coach Sean Miller reacts during the first half of a first-round game against Kennesaw State in the NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It’s the first time Kennesaw State has finished a season above .500 since becoming a Division I program in 2005. 

“Well, first thing I’m going to say is this: How about them Kennesaw State fighting Owls? I am so proud of this group, who they’ve become, what they’re about, but more importantly how they respond to adversity, and even how they respond to success.” Abdur-Rahim said after the game. “That was a fun basketball game out there today, man. It gets no better than that.”

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In Sean Miller’s first year as head coach of Xavier, the Musketeers went 25-9 in the regular season. 

Xavier will play the winner of Pittsburgh-Iowa State on Sunday. 

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