ATLANTA – Chris Mack warned his Xavier players they would face a talent disadvantage against Baylor.
The coach didn't count on that disadvantage leaving his team down by 18 points less than 8 minutes into the game.
Xavier rallied but could never catch Baylor, falling to the Bears 75-70 in the NCAA South regional semifinal on Friday night.
"We weren't quite ready from the beginning to handle the athleticism and the talent that they brought," Mack said. "I wasn't surprised that we came back because I think we have very resilient kids. But, again, you get behind the eight ball against a team like Baylor's, it's really tough to overcome an 18-point deficit."
Before the Musketeers could get it going, Baylor led 22-4.
But Led by Tu Holloway, who scored 22 points, Xavier fought back. Holloway's 3-pointer with 22 seconds remaining cut Baylor's lead to 71-68. Brady Heslip made four free throws in the final 17 seconds to protect the Bears' lead.
"We were right there," Mack said.
Xavier (23-13) couldn't advance after making the round of 16 for the fourth time in five years.
Kenny Frease had 18 points and Mark Lyons had 16 for the Musketeers.
Quincy Acy had 20 points and 15 rebounds and Perry Jones III added 14 points for Baylor (30-7), which will face Kentucky, which beat Indiana 102-90, in Sunday's final.
Heslip, coming off his career-high 27 points on nine 3-pointers in Baylor's second-round win over Colorado, had 11 points with only one 3.
"You stay with Brady, that means we're one-on-one down in the post, and you see what happens," said Baylor coach Scott Drew.
Mack acknowledged he was wary of Heslip's 3-pointers. Heslip surprised the Musketeers by scoring on two drives to the basket in the opening minutes.
"We definitely didn't want Brady Heslip to get any catch-and-shoot 3s," Mack said. "He hadn't taken a dribble and scored the entire tournament. What does he do? He goes to the basket for his first four points."
Acy filled the scoring void for Heslip, his roommate.
"I think I got a little of that magic from him," Acy said.
Acy had several dunks and added some jump shots that surprised Mack.
"He's a cage-rattler," said Mack of Acy. "We knew that. ... on film, I never saw him hit a 15-foot jump shot, and he does that in the first four minutes of the game."
Xavier needed 10 minutes to reach double figures, but a flagrant one foul by Acy on Frease helped the Musketeers recover from their slow start.
Acy, who scored a combined 11 points in the Bears' first two wins in the tournament, knocked Frease to the floor when he hit the 7-foot center from behind with 5:08 remaining in the half. The officials reviewed a video replay before ruling on the severity of the foul.
Frease made both free throws and then scored a few seconds later as Xavier retained possession. It was the start of 13 unanswered points as Xavier cut Baylor's lead from 33-16 to 33-29.
"It was definitely a turning point," Frease said. "That definitely was a boost.
"I think we sort of woke up on the defensive end, too. We were able to make a really good run."
The Musketeers had too far to climb.
"Unfortunately, when you get down that much to a team like Baylor, a lot of times you're not going to be able to come out of it, and today we couldn't," Frease said.
Jackson ended the run with a 3-pointer to give the Bears a 36-29 halftime lead.
Xavier was hurt by poor shooting, especially from beyond the arc. The Musketeers were 0-for-11 on 3-pointers before Justin Martin ended the drought with 2 minutes remaining. He added another 3 40 seconds later, and Holloway's 3 with 22 seconds remaining cut the lead the 71-68.
Heslip's four free throws in the final 17 seconds protected the lead.
Acy made 8 of 11 shots from the field and each of his four free throws, including two with 31 seconds remaining after Xavier cut the Bears' lead to six points.
Xavier freshman forward Dezmine Wells started but was held to two points in 24 minutes. His status was in doubt after he sprained his right big toe in Sunday's 70-58 win over Lehigh.
Meanwhile, another starting forward, Andre Walker, did not score in 17 minutes as he played after missing practice this week due to severe headaches.
"They gave it their best shot," Mack said. "They wanted to be out on the floor. In truth, I didn't think Des was going to play or should play, but it just shows the kind of desire he has to be out on the floor with his teammates."
Mack said Wells and Walker were not at full speed.
"We were playing with a little bit of a different team," Mack said. "Make no excuses. You have to play next man in.
"I just wish Des could have played healthy tonight, and I wish that for Andre. But that's part of the tournament. That's just the breaks of the game."