By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Xavier's season came to an end Sunday, much sooner than the 12th-ranked Musketeers had planned.
What was supposed to be a statement run through the NCAA Tournament turned sour at the hands of a resilient Maryland team that broke open a close game with a commanding first-half run and then survived a late rally by Xavier.
In the end, Maryland won 77-64 in front of 17,484 at Gaylord Entertainment Center, advancing to the South regional semifinal Friday in San Antonio.
Xavier, having boarded a team bus Sunday night, is already back in Cincinnati for good, a couple of rounds too early by its standards.
"That's two years in a row," said junior guard Romain Sato, referring to Xavier's second-round loss to Oklahoma last season. "We've got a lot to learn. We get to the second round and lose one year. Get to the second round and lose again. We did the same thing.
"It's the same feeling as last year, and its tough because we won't be going to the Sweet 16. We can't get past the second round."
Xavier has been to the regional semifinals only once in the program's history, in 1990. But the Musketeers earned a best-ever No. 3 seed this year after winning the Atlantic 10 regular-season title. The seedings didn't reflect the way Xavier played in the first half against the sixth-seeded Terrapins.
Maryland dominated the first 20 minutes, taking a 45-28 lead into the locker room. It was the most points Xavier had given up in the first half this season.
Maryland went right at Xavier's All-American post player David West and held a 28-8 advantage on points in the paint in the first half and 44-24 for the game.
Maryland center Ryan Randle scored 11 of his 17 points in the first half, making five of seven shots, three of them over West.
Xavier center Anthony Myles didn't fare much better as he failed to grab a rebound in the first half and played just 13 minutes because of foul trouble. Maryland's quickness in the post left Myles unsure of himself defensively.
"I don't know," Myles said. "It happened so fast. I was playing defense, and I turned around and there was a dunk or a layup (by Maryland)."
In fact, Maryland had 12 dunks or layups in the first half and 19 for the game. The Terrapins (21-9) trailed 9-8 when they ran off 13 straight points, including three dunks and a layup.
"That gave us the pad we needed to win the game," said Maryland coach Gary Williams.
West, playing in his final collegiate game, finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. He struggled from the field, however, making only six of 17 shots.
"We were missing shots, and we let our offense dictate our defense," West said. "Guys got down because we weren't making baskets, and we were giving them easy ones."
Maryland shot 52.9 percent from the field in the first half to Xavier's 28.6 percent. .
Facing the end of its season with 20 minutes to play, Xavier responded with a second-half surge that gave the Musketeers hope. West keyed a 24-10 run that cut Maryland's 17-point lead to 60-57 with 6:06 left in the game. West scored 12 points during the run, establishing himself in the paint, scoring or getting fouled.
Maryland's Drew Nicholas made a 3-pointer with 5:55 to go that pushed the lead back to six, and West did not make another field goal. Maryland outscored Xavier 10-3 over the final 4:15, handing Xavier its largest margin of defeat this season.
Nicholas finished with 17 points, two days after he hit an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer to get Maryland past upset-hopeful UNC Wilmington.
Xavier finished with the same 26-6 record as last season.
"This one hurts a little more (than last year)," West said. "I think with about three minutes to go against Oklahoma it was evident they were the better team. Oklahoma went to the Final Four, and there was no doubt they were the better team. This one, there is doubt. We didn't play our best basketball. Nowhere near our best basketball."
Maryland is the defending national champion, but the Terrapins lost four starters off that team. Only point guard Steve Blake came back, but three other seniors who had been career reserves, including Nicholas, Randle and Tahj Holden joined him. Sunday, they showed that they aren't ready to give up their title.
"We won it last year," Holden said. "Until we get beat, were going to be the defending national champs."
Team rebounds: 0.
Team rebounds: 2.
Attendance-17,484. 3-point goals-M 3-13 (Caner-Medley 0-1, Holden 0-3, Nicholas 2-5, Blake 1-4); X 7-18 (Sato 3-8, Chalmers 3-7, Finn 1-3). Officials-Hall, Hightower, Sitton.
XU Tourney history
1961 - lost to Morehead State 71-66.
1983 - lost to Alcorn State 81-75.
1986 - lost to Alabama 97-80.
1987 - beat Missouri 70-69; lost to Duke 65-60.
1988 - lost to Kansas 85-72.
1989 - lost to Michigan 92-87.
1990 - beat Kansas State 87-79; beat Georgetown 74-71; lost to Texas 102-89.
1991 - beat Nebraska 89-84; lost to Connecticut 66-50.
1993 - beat New Orleans 73-55; lost to Indiana 73-70.
1995 - lost to Georgetown 68-63.
1997 - beat Vanderbilt 80-68; lost to UCLA 96-83.
1998 - lost to Washington 69-68.
2001 - lost to Notre Dame 83-71.
2002 - beat Hawaii 70-58; lost to Oklahoma 78-65.
2003 - beat Troy State 71-59; lost to Maryland 77-64.
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