CINCINNATI -- Success had rendered them complacent. All the recent dominance, the heads they had turned, the headlines they had prompted and the growing talk of them going undefeated gave the University of Massachusetts players a false sense of superiority entering yesterday's game against Atlantic 10 counterpart Xavier.
The No. 1 Minutemen figured they'd show up, silence a raucous crowd with a showering of three-point baskets and dunks, and, as UMass forward Donta Bright put it, "beat them by 10 to 15 points."
Instead, Xavier, led by former Loyola coach Skip Prosser, out-hustled, outshot and out-executed UMass throughout most of the game, coming within a hair of the biggest upset in college basketball this season.
It took two heroic plays by starting point guard Edgar Padilla -- a three-pointer with 15 seconds left to send the contest into overtime, and a steal in the closing seconds of the extra period to preserve UMass' lead -- to lift the often sluggish Minutemen past the scrappy Musketeers, 78-74.
UMass center Marcus Camby led all scorers with 26 points and Bright (Dunbar) added 21 for the Minutemen (21-0, 9-0), who didn't take the lead until the first possession of the second half.
"We doubted them; we didn't think they were this good," said forward Tyrone Weeks. "All the papers and ESPN saying how great we are -- we can't listen to that stuff. We just have to go out and play hard every night."
TC Xavier (9-9, 5-3), which starts three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior, held UMass to just 33-percent shooting in the first half. Cheered by a partisan crowd of 10,118, the Musketeers maintained their poise in the second half, after the Minutemen rallied from a 23-12 deficit to close to 32-31 at halftime.
Xavier went ahead, 67-62, with 2:47 left in regulation after a tip-in by center Kevin Carr. UMass cut it to four on a free throw by Camby with 2:24 to go, then got it to 67-65 on a tip-in by Bright with 34 seconds left.
A free throw by Xavier forward T. J. Johnson with 24 seconds left made it 68-65. On UMass' last possession of regulation, Padilla raced down the left side of the court and hit a pull-up three-pointer.
On Xavier's last possession, guard Lenny Brown missed, guard Gary Lumpkin was blocked by Camby and Johnson missed.
In the overtime, Xavier trailed 75-74 with 14 seconds left. A Camby free throw made it 76-74.
Xavier quickly moved the ball upcourt and got into a halfcourt set, but Padilla came from Lumpkin's blind side and batted the ball to Bright, who tossed to Padilla.Padilla threw an outlet pass to guard Charlton Clarke, who raced downcourt and scored on a layup just before the buzzer.
"We've been down this road a couple of times," said Prosser, whose Xavier team suffered a similarly close loss to cross-town rival Cincinnati Jan. 17. "I know people will tell [my players] how good they are, but deep down they know they let this one get out of their grasp."