By Jerry Hill, Baylor Bear Insider
ATLANTA, Ga. - Xavier coach Chris Mack knew all about Quincy Acy's cage-rattling dunks. But Mack and his Musketeers weren't ready for the 6-foot-7 bearded beast to knock down face-up jumpers.
Acy buried a 17-foot jumper to open the game and finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds to send the third-seeded and ninth-ranked Baylor Bears (30-7) back to the Elite Eight with a 75-70 win over 10th-seeded Xavier Friday night in the South Region semifinals at the Georgia Dome.
"He's a cage-rattler. We knew that," said Mack, whose team ended 23-13 with its fourth Sweet 16 appearance in five years. "He's that kid, when you're coaching AAU and you look over, and he just looks so much bigger and stronger than everybody. . . . I can take some of the offensive rebound put-backs. But when he starts facing up and hitting jump shots, it's not what the doctor ordered. It's not fair."
Baylor, which shot out to a 22-4 lead in the first 7 ½ minutes, survived a furious rally by the Musketeers in the last minute and a half to advance to Sunday's region final against top-seeded Kentucky (35-2). The Wildcats punched their ticket and joined the Bears in the Elite Eight with a 102-90 win over fourth-seeded Indiana.
"It's exciting to be in the Elite Eight, especially experiencing it with the guys that have been here before," said sophomore forward Perry Jones III, who was 7-of-8 from the floor to finish with 14 points and five rebounds. "We're just looking forward to going a little further and make a little history."
This one looked like it was going to be an easy walk in the park when the Bears busted out of the gates and sprinted to an 18-point lead before the crowd was comfortably in its seats.
And they did it with a few wrinkles that seemed to rattle Xavier. Not only did Acy knock down that 17-footer to get the ball rolling, 3-point specialist Brady Heslip drove through the lane for a layup and floater in that opening stretch.
"That's just us playing," said junior point guard Pierre Jackson, who posted a double-double himself with 16 points and 10 assists. "We're not one-dimensional at all. Brady can score, he just didn't have to. And Acy's been working on (the outside jumper) all summer. We take whatever they give us."
"They did some things that were out of character in terms of how they play, how they score," Mack said. "Any questions I got were always, 'How are you going to take away Heslip? Make sure he doesn't catch and shoot.' And I thought we did that. He goes 1-for-3 from 3, but the first couple buckets he gets are drives to the basket. Quincy Acy on film, I never saw him hit a 15-foot jump shot. And he does that in the first four minutes of the game."
Acy, who said he "got a little of that magic" from his road roommate, Heslip, seemed offended by Mack's assessment.
"That hurts my hurt, because I worked on that all summer," said Acy, who was 8-of-11 from the floor overall with four rim-rattling dunks. "I've hit 3s this year, too, 60 percent from beyond the arc."
Heslip got loose for his only 3-pointer of the night with 13:56 left in the half, giving the Bears a stunning 19-4 lead. But it got better. After Deuce Bello made one of two free throws, Quincy Miller got a dunk off an assist from Jackson, stretching it out to a 22-4 lead at the 12:34 mark.
"I think any time you can get a lead, as a coach, you're going to take it," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "At the same time, we knew they were down 15 against Lehigh, 10 against Notre Dame, and both times they came back. So we kept telling our guys, 'It's not over. We've got to keep building on it.' And credit them for coming back, as they always do."
Scoring in his more traditional way - he has 244 career dunks - Acy took an inbounds pass from Jackson for a monster dunk over Xavier 7-footer Kenny Frease that gave the Bears a 33-16 lead with 5:21 left in the half.
"That's got to be No. 1 on (ESPN) SportsCenter," said Jackson, an accomplished dunker himself. "It was Blake Griffin-ish."
But the game turned in a hurry 13 seconds later, when Acy was whistled for a flagrant foul. Frease hit both free throws and a layup off the inbounds play to kick-start a 13-0 run by the Musketeers as they closed within four, 33-29.
"It was definitely a turning point," said Frease, who finished with 18 points but only three boards. "Being able to score four points within whatever it was, 15 seconds, that definitely is a boost. I think that sort of woke us up on the defensive end, too. We were able to make a really good run. The guys in that locker room are really tough."
Jackson stemmed the tide, though, when he ended a five-minute scoring drought and nailed a 3-pointer that sent the Bears to the locker room with a 36-29 lead.
"I knew we needed a bucket, and coach called a play," Jackson said. "Quincy Acy set a great screen, and I decided to get a quick shot up in case we could get a rebound. And it just happened to go in."
The Bears stretched it back out to a nine-point lead in the first three minutes of the second half on another Acy dunk and seemed firmly in control when Acy took a feed from PJ3 and hit a reverse layup for a 67-54 lead with 2:20 to go.
But again, the Musketeers wouldn't go away.
Justin Martin hit a pair of 3-pointers that made it a six-point game with 1:21 left. And Tu Holloway, who missed the front end of a one-and-one that would have cut it to four, made up for it by nailing a long-distance trey that got Xavier back to within three, 71-68, with just 23 seconds left.
One turnover or a missed free throw would have left the door open. But Heslip hit four straight free throws in the final 18 seconds to finally put them away.
"We knew we were going to be in it for a 40-minute fight," said Heslip, one of Baylor's four double-figure scorers with 11 points. "The game was never really over. We got kind of lackadaisical when we got up big, but they did a great job of coming back and making tough shots and forcing us to turn it over."
That will give Drew some teaching points when he goes over the game with his dad, legendary Valparaiso coach Homer Drew. Homer and his wife, Janet, both went through cancer treatments in the fall and had not been at one of Baylor's games until Friday.
"The good news is I'm sure my dad will point out a couple things tonight that we should have done better," Scott said. "That meant a lot (for my mom to be here), because she's battled a lot and probably shouldn't have come down. But my mom's the tough one in the family. . . . I think if we had lost, and she had to drive back tomorrow, she'd have really hated me."
Instead, the whole Drew family can stick around for a couple more days to watch Sunday's region final against Kentucky.
"I think the big thing is when you've done something, human nature is you want to go the next step," Drew said. "With people experiencing the Elite Eight before, that's helped us stay grounded, focused, to try to be in a situation where you can cut down the nets and go to a Final Four."