WASHINGTON (AP) -There's no chance Xavier point guard Drew Lavender possibly could forget the way his team's season ended a year ago.
Still, just to be on the safe side, the 5-foot-7 bundle of energy writes a one-word message across the toes of each of his sneakers. Right there, in silver marker on black shoe, it says: NOPE!
As in: Will you allow any game to slip away? Nope! Will you allow your team to waste a big opportunity in the NCAA tournament, the way it did against Ohio State in 2007? Nope!
Or, in Lavender's own words after helping Xavier beat Purdue 85-78 to reach the round of 16: ``When a game gets tight ... we're not going to give up.''
Little Lavender is a big reason the Musketeers (29-6) will be playing No. 7 West Virginia (26-10) in the West Regional semifinals at Phoenix on Thursday.
Xavier boasts the most balanced offense in the country, the only team in all of Division I with six players who average at least 10 points. And it's Lavender who runs the show.
Ask his backcourt mate, Stanley Burrell, what Lavender's role is, and this is what you'll hear: ``Make everybody better.''
Against Purdue on Saturday night, it was Lavender who went 8-for-8 on free throws in the final minute, pausing to check out those letters on his sneakers as he stepped to the line. He finished with 18 points and nine assists, and when it was over, Lavender hopped into fellow senior Burrell's arms and let out a celebratory shout.
``Me and Stan told each other: 'We've got to make plays. We're the guards out here. We're two seniors. We've got to make plays.' That's what we did,'' said Lavender, who transferred after playing two years at Oklahoma.
Not that long ago, Xavier and Lavender couldn't be absolutely sure how much of a factor he'd be during March Madness. He sprained his left ankle Feb. 13, during a victory over Charlotte, and hadn't been up to his usual zigzagging standards - until the past two games.
``If you've watched him on film, he wasn't 100 percent for a full month,'' Xavier coach Sean Miller said. ``Now that Drew is back to his old self, I think from an offensive standpoint we've regained who we were.''
Xavier has three consecutive 20-win seasons and three consecutive NCAA appearances, rising from a No. 14 seeding in 2006, to a No. 9 in 2007, to this year's No. 3.
It was in last season's second round of the tournament that Xavier appeared primed for a major upset, leading state rival Ohio State and freshman phenom Greg Oden by nine points with less than 3 minutes remaining.
And then, in the blink of an eye, the Buckeyes went on an 8-0 run. They used a last-second 3-pointer to force overtime, and eventually won en route to reaching the national championship game.
``It's been a motivating factor for us all spring, summer, fall, during the year,'' Miller said, ``to get back to this moment and see if we could break through.''
On Saturday, no one on the Xavier sideline could help but think about that Ohio State game. That's because after the Musketeers built a 60-50 lead in the second half, they let Purdue move in front with an 11-0 run.
``Experience is everything,'' Burrell said. ``We could have panicked and been, 'Oh, man. Not again!'''
Precisely the sort of moment Lavender had in mind when he penned the message on his sneakers.
He hadn't made more than six free throws in an entire game all season, but came through when he had to down the stretch against Purdue.
And what was running through his mind?
``Stay poised,'' Lavender said, ``just like Ohio State did to us last year.''

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