Kissimmee, Fla., November 20, 2016 – Just went it appeared that Xavier might blow it, Trevon Bluiett came through for the Musketeers.
Xavier held a 16-point lead midway through the second half of Sunday’s championship game in the Tire Pros Invitational against Northern Iowa, and still led by 12 points with only 3½ minutes to play. At that moment, it appeared the Musketeers were headed for a victory celebration.
But this was the same UNI team that had roared back from an 18-point, second-half deficit against Oklahoma two nights earlier in the tournament semifinals. So when the Panthers ripped off seven consecutive points in less than two minutes to close the gap to 58-53 with still 1:35 to play, the tension became obvious among the Musketeer fans (including actor Bill Murray, who was in the crowd supporting his son, Xavier assistant coach Luke Murray).
Bluiett, however, made sure there would not be a second amazing comeback by the Panthers. The junior guard connected on 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute of the game, enabling Xavier to hang on for a 67-59 victory. He finished with a game-high 21 points to go along with eight rebounds, and won the Most Outstanding Player award after scoring a total of 54 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in the three-game tournament.
Bluiett’s clutch free-throw shooting was even more impressive considering he had actually gone cold from the field down the stretch. After hitting a jumper with 13:38 remaining – making him 7-for-14 from the field at that point – Bluiett missed his next five shots. Yet when it came time to put the game away, he calmly drained his free throws.
“We kind of base everything on having a next-play mentality,” Bluiett said. “We can’t worry about the past plays. My teammates do a good job of helping me forget about that. I kind of get down on myself sometimes, but they help bring me back up and tell me to keep playing.”
Bluiett learned how to do that during his freshman season in a game-against crosstown rival Cincinnati. After going 0-for-4 from the field, Bluiett stepped to the free-throw line with only 11.5 seconds left and the score tied. In the face of more than 13,000 screaming Cincinnati fans, Bluiett made both foul shots, giving Xavier a 59-57 victory. Those were his only points of the game.
“For him to do that after basically not playing well at all for the entire game as a freshman, it’s given him confidence when he’s in those situations,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “He’s always been that type of player, and he proved it again tonight.”
Bluiett now has 1,003 points in his Xavier career, making him the 52nd player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark. But when asked about the milestone after the game, he shrugged it off as casually as he ignored the pressure of his late-game free throws.
“It feels pretty good, but I’m more concerned and happy with our team getting the championship,” Bluiett said. “That was the bigger goal. If we reach our team goals, the individual accolades will follow.”
Xavier teammate J.P. Macura joined Bluiett on the All-Tournament team, finishing the event with a total of 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Also making the team were Davidson guard Jack Gibbs (who tied the tournament record with 71 total points), UNI guard Jeremy Morgan (57 points, 30 rebounds, 12 assists) and Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodward (56 points, 15 rebounds, 18 assists)