INDIANAPOLIS -- They weren't supposed to be so tough, this small and scrappy team from little Xavier. They weren't supposed to start three guards, all 6 feet and smaller, and stay with top-ranked, top-seeded Indiana in the second round of the NCAA Midwest Regional.
If the Musketeers weren't intimidated by the taller, stronger Hoosiers, then surely they would be stunned by the crowd of 37,411 at the Hoosier Dome. "I was afraid to look into the stands," joked Xavier coach Pete Gillen. "There's more people up there than in Bulgaria."
Fortunately for Gillen -- not to mention CBS, which has had more than its share of blowouts the past few days -- neither Indiana nor its fans got to Xavier yesterday. Unfortunately for the Musketeers, a few too many bounces and calls went the wrong way.
The result was a 73-70 victory for Indiana, which is now the heavy favorite going into Thursday's regional semifinals in St. Louis. Ninth-seeded Xavier goes home to Cincinnati, thinking about how close it came to joining George Washington and Cal as the biggest Cinderellas in the Sweet 16.
"We played them to the wall," said Gillen. "We gave them our best shot. I think they will win the national championship. They're a great team. They answered the bell every time."
After blowing out Wright State by 43 points Friday, it looked as if Indiana (30-3) was on its way to another rout midway through the first half. But after falling behind by as many as 11 points, Xavier (24-6) cut its deficit to four by halftime and to one early in the second half.
By the time the Hoosiers built their lead back to nine, 57-48, with 8:24 remaining, not a soul in the building believed the Musketeers were done. Certainly Indiana coach Bob Knight knew they weren't.
"Tonight we were fighting for all we are worth," said Knight.
It seemed that Xavier's fight wasn't merely against the Hoosiers, the crowd, but against the officials, too. At one point in the second half, Gillen held up six fingers. He was signaling how many more fouls his Musketeers had at the time. Indiana had none.
In fact, Xavier was called for eight second-half fouls before the Hoosiers had been called for their first, with 8:44 to go. For the half, the Musketeers were called for 15 fouls to five for Indiana. The difference translated to a huge advantage at the foul line: Indiana was 14 of 19 in the second half, to 3-for-5 for Xavier.
Asked about the officiating later, Gillen applied some read-between-the-lines diplomacy. "I've got to coach," he said. "These are great officials. That's an easy excuse. You saw the game. I saw the game. We tell our kids to win with class and lose with class. You saw what I saw."
Still, despite all the obstacles, Xavier had a chance to win. It cut the nine-point deficit back to one, 59-58, on a hellacious baseline reverse dunk by Xavier forward Aaron Williams. But then two errant dribbles by the Musketeers proved costly.
The second one, with a minute remaining and Indiana leading 66-64, came when sophomore guard Michael Hawkins dribbled off the heel of teammate Brian Grant's sneaker. Chris Reynolds picked up the ball and fed Damon Bailey, who was fouled and made two free throws.
"When Coach put me in, he wanted me to put pressure on their guards," said Reynolds, who had just been inserted in the lineup for defensive purposes. "He just dribbled off his teammate's sneaker. It wasn't anything I did."
Said Gillen: "It was the big play in the game."
Yet, the Musketeers had one more chance. After a free throw by Bailey stretched Indiana's lead to six, 71-65, with 16 seconds to go, Hawkins came right back to nail a three-point shot with 12.7 seconds left. After the ball went through the net, it got kicked out to the foul line.
Bailey took his time retrieving the ball, and finally got it inbounds with 3.1 seconds left. Some thought Bailey had taken more than the prescribed five seconds to inbound. "What he did was make a real smart play," said Xavier guard Jamie Gladden, who led the Musketeers with 18 points.
"I wasn't going to get it in a hurry," Bailey said. "They had no timeouts left and they couldn't stop the clock. You do have a little time, fortunately, to get the ball. I did take my time."
After his inbounds pass to Reynolds was knocked out of bounds, Bailey got the ball to Cheaney. The 6-7 senior forward was fouled and hit the last two of his-game-high 23 points. The crowd breathed a sigh of relief.
So did Cheaney. He had played under Gillen on the World University team in Great Britain last summer, and Knight had let his star player tell the team about what to expect.
The Hoosiers, with top rebounder Alan Henderson limited by a knee injury, wound up being badly outrebounded by the Musketeers (39-23), including 16 by Xavier center Brian Grant and 10 by Aaron Williams, who added 17 points.
"We were fortunate to win this game," said Cheaney.