Xavier sneaks by Pittsburgh in Milwaukee finale

Xavier is sweet. Sweet for two reasons.

With its 71-68 win over Pittsburgh Sunday at the Bradley Center, the Musketeers are one of 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament.

They’re also sweet for letting the Panthers hang around as long as they did in Sunday’s matchup.

With six seconds left, Xavier guard Dante Jackson stepped up to the free throw line with his team holding a 3-point lead. Jackson bricked both and Pittsburgh had new life. Panthers guard Gilbert Brown missed a 3-pointer, but Xavier knocked it out of bounds with .4 seconds left, giving Pittsburgh one last shot to send it to overtime.

“I just wanted to make one, but they didn’t go down for me,” Jackson said.

Brown’s desperation heave hit the front of the rim and the No. 6 seed Xavier Musketeers moved on to Salt Lake City to face the No. 2 seed Kansas State Wildcats.

“It was a tough, physical Pittsburgh team,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “There were runs by both teams but I really credit our kid’s toughness for hanging in there. We squandered a couple leads and you have to give Pittsburgh credit.”             

It was another classic NCAA Tournament game that completed the Bradley Center’s regional matchups Sunday night.

Xavier led the entire second half and every time the Musketeers built a somewhat comfortable lead, the Panthers came clawing back.

In the end, it was a bittersweet sendoff for coach Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh as they watched the Musketeers advance to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. Last season, Pittsburgh got the better of Xavier in the Sweet 16, defeating the Musketeers 60-55.

“We played Pittsburgh last year but this was two completely different teams,” Mack said.

Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford led all scorers with 27 points and knocked down many clutch free throws in the game’s waning moments.

“I fought through it all and now I can play with my team,” Crawford said about sitting out last season. “I’m not taking anything for granted; my teammates aren’t taking anything for granted.

“I love the chance to be able to do this and hopefully we can get further.”

The Musketeers are the highest remaining seed in the West region as No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State and No. 5 Butler all advanced in their earlier contests.