Nunge's block seals Xavier's win over Kennesaw St in NCAAs

Xavier guard Colby Jones passes away from Kennesaw State guard Kasen Jennings during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Jack Nunge blocked Terrell Burden’s driving attempt at a go-ahead layup in the final seconds, and Xavier dug out of a 13-point hole against surprising Kennesaw State to escape with a 72-67 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Souley Boum hit four clinching free throws in the final 2.6 seconds for the third-seeded Musketeers (26-9), who ran off 15 unanswered points as part of a game-ending 24-6 run. That was enough to turn away the 14th-seeded Owls (26-9) in the program’s first-ever March Madness game.

Xavier moves on to face either Iowa State or Pittsburgh on Sunday in the Midwest Region.

Xavier led 68-67 when Burden — who’d been successful all day with dribble penetration — turned into the paint past Jerome Hunter and appeared to have a path to the rim. The 7-foot Nunge moved over and swatted the ball into the backboard.

The ball eventually made its way to Boum, who hit two free throws with 2.6 seconds left for a 70-67 lead. The Owls had a chance to set up a 3-pointer for the tie, but that desperate play ended when Spencer Rodgers’ right foot landed on the sideline as he caught the inbound pass. Boum hit two more free throws, and the Musketeers could finally breathe.

There was plenty of tension along the way. That included Boum and teammate Adam Kunkel trading words on the court as the teams began a late timeout. The pair continued jawing across the bench until teammates stepped in.

Jerome Hunter scored 24 points to lead the Musketeers, while Boum had 17. Nunge had 10 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

Kennesaw State made just two baskets in the final 9:57 as its chances of a signature March moment slipped away painfully. When it was over, coach Amir Abdur-Rahim gathered his team for a moment at midcourt before the Owls headed for the locker room while waving to their boisterous fans.

Burden and Chris Youngblood each scored 14 points to lead Kennesaw State.


Kennesaw State: The Owls earned their first bid with a rapid climb, improving from a 1-28 season in Abdur-Rahim’s first year. And before this year, the dual-campus Georgia school with nearly 43,000 students had never had a winning record in its Division I era, which began in the 2005-06 season. It was a memorable season that came oh-so-close to adding a historic win.

Xavier: Five years ago, the Musketeers had won 29 games and reached the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in 17 seasons, a stretch that began under coach Sean Miller. But they hadn’t made it since. Miller returned this season for his second stint at Xavier after 12 years at Arizona and immediately ended that five-year drought. It’s also his first trip to the NCAAs since 2018 with the Wildcats.