CINCINNATI -- Xavier's lead was down to one point. The home crowd was stunned. The unprecedented upset suddenly seemed possible.
The Musketeers' mettle and their dynamic front-line duo carried them through a scary opening game in the NCAA tournament.Amber Harris scored a season-high 31 points, and Ta'Shia Phillips had 23 points and 21 rebounds Sunday, leading the Musketeers to a pulsating 94-82 win over East Tennessee State.No third-seeded team has ever lost to a No. 14 team. Xavier (28-3) turned to its two dominant players to make sure it wouldn't happen this time, either."That's what's supposed to happen this time of year," coach Kevin McGuff said. "You've got players like that, they're supposed to carry you. Our advantage under the basket ultimately won out."Xavier closed the game with a 13-2 run for its 19th straight victory and its first NCAA tournament win since 2001, another breakthrough in a season full of them. This one had the home crowd squirming the whole way.Undersized ETSU (23-9) made 15 3-pointers and got a career-high 30 points from Tarita Gordon, whose jumper cut it to 81-80 with 2:45 left. Harris and Phillips took it from there, returning the Musketeers to what they do best -- getting rebounds and scoring inside."I wasn't worried," said Harris, the Atlantic 10's Player of the Year. "I was like, 'OK, it's time to go. They made their run, let's make our run.'"Xavier will play a second-round game on Tuesday against sixth-seeded Vanderbilt, which beat DePaul 83-76 on Sunday.The Musketeers' hadn't won an NCAA tournament game since they reached the Elite Eight in 2001, dropping four since then. Playing on their home court, they finally got it done.Barely."No one expected it to be a one-point game with 2 minutes to go," ETSU coach Karen Kemp said. "We're narrowing the gap. It's going to happen -- a low seed will upset a high seed."With a lot of pluck, the Lady Bucs came within a couple of minutes of doing just that.East Tennessee State had a pronounced height disadvantage -- no one who could handle the 6-foot-5 Harris or the 6-foot-6 Phillips, the school's career rebound leader. It showed in the opening minutes, when Xavier went inside for a 15-5 lead.Time for Plan F, as in: Fire away.The Lady Bucs kept up by countering Xavier's layups with a blizzard of 3-pointers. ETSU went 12 of 20 from behind the arc in the first half. Gordon was the catalyst, going 5 of 6 on 3-point attempts for 20 points overall in the half, never hesitating when she got the ball -- even if a defender was in her face.She had never made more than four 3s in a college game."I don't think I've ever been that hot in my career, but I just wanted to help the team win any way I could," said Gordon, who finished 11 of 18 from the field. "If it was making shots, fine."Gordon's 3-pointer off a fastbreak -- what else? -- gave ETSU its first lead at 42-41 and stunned the crowd. Harris made a fastbreak layup, and Special Jennings banked in a 3 from 30 feet away at the buzzer for a 50-45 Xavier lead.No better way to end that half. ETSU's 12 3-pointers tied their season high for an entire game.Could they keep this up?ETSU missed its first three shots from behind the arc to open the second half. In one of those send-a-message moments, Phillips came out on the perimeter and swatted away Gwen Washington's 3-point attempt.With Phillips and Harris having their way in the crowd of smaller defenders, Xavier opened a 75-60 lead with 8:50 to go. ETSU made its final push behind Gordon, whose jumper cut it to 81-80 with 2:35 left. Harris and Phillips dug in and pulled Xavier through to the second round, a place the Musketeers hadn't been in nine years."It feels great," Harris said. "I've waited three years for this. I'm happy we pulled together at the end."