With the game on the line, the best players on each team faced off. As usual, Tu Holloway walked away the winner.
Ignore Charles Barkley, ignore the Twitter know it alls, and ignore your friends who played once in high school; Xavier didn't win because of a couple of calls at the end of the game. This was a great game, one of the best the tournament has produced so far, and Xavier won because Coach Mack made the adjustments and Tu Holloway is, as he always has been, the man down the stretch.
Things didn't start as well as they ended for the Musketeers. By the 10:19 mark in the first half, Xavier had already blown two seven point leads and was allowing Jack Cooley to pretty much have his way inside. Cooley finished with 18/8/0 but only scored three points after the 14 minute mark in the second half. All the credit for that goes to the much maligned Chris Mack.
One of Joel's questions before the game was about how well Kenny Frease could handle Jack Cooley. In the post, Frease was more than a match for the man who ended the game crying. To Mike Brey's credit though, he didn't force the burn "offense" and started running Cooley down off of ball screens. Time and time again, this left Frease isolated on Jerian Grant or a guard down low on Cooley. This led Coach Mack to make the call to limit Frease' time and give the more athletic Jeff Robinson a chance to work on the switch. Thankfully, Good Jeff was in attendance.
With 12:22 to go though, it didn't look like it would matter. Notre Dame took a 48-38 thanks to an Eric Atkins three. Mark Lyons, who struggled to a 3-9 night, answered instantly on the other end with his second three pointer of the night. From then, it was a 29-15 run for the Musketeers. It wasn't as easy as all that though, because Notre Dame wasn't just going away. Jerian Grant, a shameless gunner, got hot and buried three three pointers in the run in. Thanks to his scoring and four quick points from Scott Martin, Xavier trailed by three with a minute to play.
Getting there from being down ten was the work of, mostly, one man. Tu Holloway, derided by the media most of the year, again rose to the occasion when his team really needed him. Kenny Frease couldn't contribute much offensively, his 10 coming mostly in the first half, and Mark Lyons only managed eight. That, and refs that weren't inclined to call much contact at the rim, left Holloway in the position of needing 15 field goal attempts to get his points. But, as Xavier fans have come to expect, he banged in ten of those and poured in 25, 17 in the second half as Xavier stormed back into the game.
All that set up a final minute that, if Lehigh hadn't just beaten Duke, would have been the most talked about of the night. With the score 63-30, Mark Lyons caught the ball on the left wing and ripped baseline for a quick basket. As Notre Dame brought the ball back down the floor, things got a bit odd. Dez Wells left Pat Connaughton deep on the left baseline and race toward mid court. As the clock ticked past 33 seconds, Eric Atkins saw Connaughton suddenly come open and launched a pass in his general direction. Unfortunately for the Irish, Connaughton isn't 12 feet tall, and the pass found nothing but the first row of seats.
That left the ball back in the hands of the man whose teammates sometimes call him Mariano Rivera. Holloway ran off a screen into the right hand channel and directly at Jack Cooley. With the game on the line, the best players on each team were now face to face. Holloway drove hard and then rose and squared his shoulders and found the glass and net from ten feet away. The Notre Dame lead had evaporated and all Xavier just needed one stop to secure a date with the Mountain Hawks.
After a timeout, Jerian Grant found himself again open for a long three. This time though, he missed. Dez Wells, with his head at the rim raked down the board and converted one of two to give Xavier a very tenuous two point lead. Eric Atkins raced the other way and forced Dee Davis into a foul he really couldn't avoid. With 2.8 seconds on the clock, Notre Dame was on the line to tie. Once again though, a simple lack of knowledge of the rules crippled a comeback. This time, it was a member of the Fighting Irish coming from behind the arc before the ball touched rim. On the ensuing Xavier inbound, Connaughton's attempt to water ski off Dez Wells was correctly called an intentional foul. At that point, it was all over but Cooley's crying.
-Can Tu Holloway get to the line? Not really. Holloway went 3-4 from the line on the game. It's true that with some calls going the other way, he would have been looking at and ones, but that didn't happen. Regardless, Tu still controlled the game.
-Can Big Kenny stay out of foul trouble and contain Jack Cooley? Yes and no. Frease was way too much for Cooley on the post, but the Fighting Irish gameplanned around that with their screen and drop offense. Frease was mostly neutralized, but 21 minutes from Jeff Robinson playing at his best were more than enough.
-Does Notre Dame have anyone who can contain Dezmine Wells? No. Wells went off tonight to the tune of 14/11/1 on 3-6 from the floor and 7-11 from the line. Dez was by far the most athletic player on either tame and was rewarded with 39 minutes, more than even Tu Holloway or Mark Lyons. If anyone other than Tu Holloway deserves credit for this win on the floor, it was Wells. He was just too much of a monster.
Next game: #15 Lehigh at 7:45pm on Sunday.