ST. LOUIS: Xavier’s starting lineup might consist of four players designated as guards, but size is not a commodity the Musketeers are lacking. Not when they can go to the bench for guys who are 6 feet 10, 6-10 and 6-8 with significant bulk.
Placed on alert by Friday’s early upset in the building by Middle Tennessee State over Michigan State, second-seeded Xavier didn’t waste any time in building an early lead against Weber State by using its size. Despite the upset dreams of the No. 15 Wildcats in an East Region game at Scottrade Center, Xavier never relented, riding a big game by reserve forward James Farr to post a 71-53 win in the day’s final game in St. Louis.
Farr had 18 points and 15 rebounds and starting forward Jalen Reynolds scored 12 points, throwing down three backboard-rattling dunks in the second half, as Xavier (28-5) put the emphasis on power.
“I didn’t want to go home,” Farr said. “I wanted to set the tone and help my teammates be ready for the first game. We were able to get the win but we’re nowhere near our goal.”
Weber State (26-9) hung around most of the game, creeping to within seven points on several occasions in the second half — the last time being with eight minutes remaining. The Musketeers shook them with a burst of eight points to earn a second-round meeting with Wisconsin on Sunday night.
Weber State’s highly touted center Joel Bolomboy, the Big Sky Conference’s most valuable player, had 14 points and 10 rebounds after a slow start.
Xavier had a 43-27 rebounding advantage and controlled the inside in all aspects.
“They have a high-major frontcourt in terms of their size,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “We were able to keep (Bolomboy) in check for the most part and assert our will on the glass. To outrebound a team by 16 in the NCAA Tournament isn’t easy to do.”
Ultimately, Weber State’s slow start — or Xavier’s fast start — kept the game from providing much drama. But the Wildcats were formidable for more than 20 minutes when they outscored the Musketeers 43-35 before the margin grew in the closing minutes.
“It’s good to get it over with after seeing all the mishaps that happened today,” guard Edmond Sumner said. “We didn’t want to take anything for granted. I think a couple of teams took a couple of teams for granted.”
After all of the pregame talk from Mack’s about fearing Weber State’s front line, the Musketeers went to work immediately to establish their own inside game. And with great success.
Mack dug into his bench and received a huge early boost from Farr, a 6-foot-10, 244-pounder, who scored three quick buckets under the basket. One came on a double offensive rebound. Another came when he had his first shot stuffed but was able to retain control for a put-back.
Weber State tried to get its big men involved but it mostly backfired, such as when a long forced pass to Zach Braxton in transition hit the rim and led to a turnover.
Unlike Middle Tennessee State, which earlier got off to a hot start to build confidence against No. 2 seed Michigan State, the Wildcats were off target and spread the agony of a 2-for-14 shooting start. By the time things started to click a little, Xavier had built a 21-6 lead.
The Musketeers’ rebounding dominance took form early. They doubled up Weber State on the boards in no time and Farr had 11 rebounds by halftime. Xavier had 11 offensive rebounds at the break, leading to 14 second-chance points.
If not for Weber State’s poor free-throw shooting, the game could have been closer at halftime. The Wildcats made five of 10 shots from the line while the Musketeers didn’t generate any attempts.
Weber State did cut the early 15-point lead to 27-20, but Xavier’s relentless assault on the boards would not allow the Wildcats to get closer before halftime. Weber’s saving grace at the break was having four turnovers that kept things relatively close.