Friday, March 10, 2000

One bad shot ruins XU's good night




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHILADELPHIA — Maurice McAfee watched his shot bounce off the backboard and off the rim and into the arms of the enemy. He had put too much muscle on his final shot, and now the finality of it all overwhelmed him.

        Xavier's junior guard walked off the floor at the First Union Spectrum screaming an oath, over and over. Angry and anguished. Disconsolate and disgusted.

        He had done so much and come so close, and now he had nothing to show for it. Worse, he had no games left to atone. The scoreboard read St. Bonaventure 72, Xavier 69, and there are no second chances in college basketball's conference tournaments.

NIT-bound
        Barring an improbable invitation from the NCAA Tournament's selection committee, the Muskies are bound for a return trip to the National Invitation Tournament. McAfee will be thinking about his shot for a long time.

        “It was a little strong,” McAfee said later. “I should have let a little more time go off the clock. I should have got a better shot. That was a bad shot.”

        He had scored 27 points — a career high — and he had been knocked dizzy in the first half and been busted in the face in the second half. When the Muskies lost their way Thursday night, and when they lost the lead, it was McAfee who brought them back. He did almost everything you could have asked, and more than you could have expected.

        “If Mo McAfee doesn't make a heck of a lot of shots,” Xavier coach Skip Prosser said, “we're not in position to take that last shot.”

        He had scored seven points when he hit the floor in the first half, and he lay there a long time with his hands over his face. McAfee had dared to drive toward the basket and had been knocked off course without so much as a whistle. His body hit the floor first, then his head struck the wood, and his world got all woozy for a moment.

        When McAfee returned to the game after a 31-second rest, his aim was intact and his will indomitable. He returned to the scoring column with a quick 3-pointer, and later put Xavier in the lead, 30-29, with a driving layup. He sprinted off the floor at halftime ahead of his teammates, the picture of energy and resolve.

Wasted chances
        Yet in the end, Maurice McAfee could not carry the Musketeers. He could not compensate for Darnell Williams' 3-point difficulties and 5-for-23 shooting from the forward position. He could not do it all.

        The Muskies had second shots and third shots Thursday night, and fourth shots and fifth shots. They had reprieves and re-reprieves, chance after chance, time after time.

        Yet when the moment came to rise to the occasion, they found their level was not so lofty. The Muskies played the way they have for most of the season — in fits and starts and with maddening inconsistency. They would lead by 11 points when McAfee hit a 3-pointer with 15:06 remaining, but made five turnovers before their next basket.

        “We've had a proclivity to do that at times,” Prosser said. “We get a little bit of a lead and we tend to relax.”

Good, not great
        It has been a strange season for the Muskies. Their epic upset of the Cincinnati Bearcats — then ranked No.1 in the nation, with Kenyon Martin at full strength — caused fans to expect excellence. In retrospect, it was a ruse.

        Excellence was more than the Muskies could deliver on a regular basis. Williams was not himself for most of the season — knee surgery does that — and freshman David West did not have nearly enough help up front. Aaron Turner played 25 minutes Thursday night and scored one point.

        “They made more good plays than we did,” Prosser said, diplomatically.

        Maurice McAfee made most of Xavier's good plays. He'll remember the one that wasn't so good.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

St. Bonaventure 72, Xavier 69