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Xavier keeping its head up despite unexpected overtime defeat

NEW YORK -- Chris Mack cut a disappointed figure, rather than a dejected one, in the Madison Square Garden press room on Friday night.

His Xavier team, ranked No. 3 in the country and the regular-season Big East champs, had just suffered a stunning defeat by fifth-seeded Providence in the Big East tournament semifinals -- blowing a 17-point second-half lead before falling 75-72 in overtime.

The Musketeers had chances to close out the game in regulation, and then to tie the score in the final seconds of OT, but couldn't make the big play when they needed it most.

"[We] didn't deliver the knockout punch," Mack said.

Mack gave Providence plenty of credit, and rightfully so. The Friars were ferocious in the second half and the extra period, particularly at the defensive end.

But it was more than that. Star guard Trevon Bluiett, a three-time All-Big East first-teamer who scored 27 points against St. John's in the quarterfinals Thursday, had a rare off night. Bluiett shot just 2-for-14 from the field, including 1-for-7 from beyond the arc, and couldn't even get a layup to drop in the final seconds of regulation that might have sealed a victory.

Fellow senior J.P. Macura was below par as well, shooting 4-for-10 and clanking a wide-open 3-pointer in the final minute before OT.

"We haven't gone cold very often this year," Mack said. "I go back to crediting Providence's defense for that. But again, it's a coin flip in terms of who is winning and who is losing. And we're on the wrong side of the coin."

It's certainly a missed opportunity for Xavier, still looking for its first Big East tournament crown since joining the conference. And it won't get a third crack at beating No. 2-ranked Villanova in the championship game Saturday night.

But it's not a stretch to envision these two teams meeting again in San Antonio. Villanova appears to have a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament locked up, and Xavier -- boasting a 28-5 record -- might still end up with a No. 1 seed as well, despite this loss.

Maybe that's why Mack wasn't in great distress Friday night.

"I told the guys maybe it's a blessing in disguise," Mack said. "Three games in three days is really difficult. But having said that, we still would have preferred to play in the finals."

Preference noted. But there are bigger games to come.