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Crawford scores 28 to lift Xavier over Minnesota

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COLIN FLY | March 19, 2010 02:58 PM EST | AP

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MILWAUKEE — Jordan Crawford made a strong return to the NCAA tournament.

Crawford scored 17 of his 28 points in the second half and Xavier kept its run of tournament success with a 65-54 victory over Minnesota in the first round of the West Regional on Friday.

Xavier (25-8) will be in the second round for the fourth straight year, this time under first-year coach Chris Mack.

Mack has a star in Crawford, the Indiana transfer playing in his first NCAA tournament game in two years. But it was far from a one-man show.

Dante Jackson smothered the Gophers' best shooters on defense, Jamel McLean had 14 rebounds and Crawford provided the highlight plays for the sixth-seeded Musketeers.

Lawrence Westbrook scored 15 of his 19 points for Minnesota (21-14) in the first half, and the 11th-seeded Gophers went cold from 3-point range late.

Xavier will face the winner of Pittsburgh-Oakland in the second round.

Crawford shook off his sluggish start by continuing to shoot and by his last attempt, he looked like he had no desire to leave the court.

With 38 seconds left and Blake Hoffarber's hand in his face, the sophomore guard hit a 3-pointer falling away into the Xavier bench with his teammates jumping up and down behind him to give Xavier a 63-54 lead.

Crawford didn't show much emotion, moving slowly to center court to embrace Terrell Holloway.

This one means so much for Crawford, who had only a sour experience in his first NCAA tournament with Indiana in the aftermath of the Kelvin Sampson fiasco.

Crawford has been under five coaches in two years, but has found his place as one of the Atlantic 10's top talents. After a 4 of 11 first half, he came alive after a driving, off-balance scoop with just over 17 minutes left.

He found his niche by continuing to work to get to the rim.

Crawford made another dazzling move with just over 13 minutes to play when he caught an outlet pass and sliced between Devoe Joseph and Colton Iverson for another layup.

Jackson added a 3-pointer and Mark Lyons got into the act with a 360 spin for a layup to make it 54-42. With 7:07 left, Crawford's 3-pointer gave Xavier a 55-44 lead and the celebration was on.

The Musketeers seemingly had every answer down the stretch against Minnesota, which had played its way into the tournament by winning seven of its previous 10 under Tubby Smith.

Smith was looking for his 30th NCAA tournament win and first with his fourth program after stops at Tulsa, Georgia and Kentucky, but Minnesota lost for the fourth straight time in the first round to join early exits in 1999, 2005 and 2009.

The Gophers haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 1997's Final Four run, and those wins have since been vacated.

Minnesota fell apart after it couldn't get a shot to fall from beyond the arc. One of the better 3-point shooting teams in the tournament, the Gophers were 5 of 11 from 3-point range at halftime, but 2 of 15 after.

And while Minnesota's stifling defense early forced Xavier into shooting 21 percent from the field in the first half, the Gophers couldn't keep pace after half.

Westbrook missed all eight of his second-half shots after starting 6 of 8 from the field. Hoffarber, who came in shooting 47.2 percent from 3-point range, went 2 of 6 for the game.

Mack had been an assistant at Xavier for seven years under Skip Prosser and Sean Miller and took over when Miller took the job in Arizona. In some ways, his season has been one of the Musketeers' most impressive since they didn't return a single player who averaged double figures last year.

Xavier certainly has few worries with Crawford, who grabbed brief fame for his dunk on LeBron James at a summer camp in the offseason and is making a lasting impression on college's biggest stage.