Too soon, the Tu Holloway era ends. The brilliant guard fought, as always, to the very end.
This is the dichotomy of college basketball. A week ago, we all celebrated as Xavier rallied late and stormed past Notre Dame and out of the first round. Two nights later, Kenny Frease put on a signature performance in destroying Lehigh and Xavier fans from Lake Erie to the Ohio River were elated again. Tonight, we are again united in emotion, but this time, it doesn't feel nearly so good.
The Baylor Bears are a very good basketball team. No team that beat them failed to make the NCAA tournament. The Bears beat Kansas, beat Oklahoma St by 41, beat West Virginia, and beat Kansas State twice. Baylor is mercurial, but they are talented and can be excellent. This to say that falling behind to them is not a good idea. Falling behind 22-4 before most of your fans have finished dinner is a recipe for disaster. As was the case so many times this year though, fall behind is exactly what Xavier did.When the blitzing start from the neon clad Bears ended, the Musketeers were looking at the kind of uphill battle that would have made Sisyphus balk. As per the norm though, the men in blue buckled down and got to it. Everyone chipped in, but it was Kenny Frease' 12 points that bolstered the 25-11 run that dragged the Musketeers back off the precipice. Everyone will talk about the monster performance of Quincy Acy, but when Frease was given the ball he was more than a match for the animated Baylor big man.
Unfortunately, Frease didn't always get the ball and Quincy Acy did play his heart out. Perry Jones III has the cool nickname and the publicity, but Acy was insatiable inside while his talented teammate seemed apathetic at times. With Xavier easing back into the game (the run took over 12 minutes) Acy kept making just enough plays to keep the highlighter yellow Bears afloat. Acy scored six of the Bears 11 in that time and then set the screen that gave Pierre Jackson the room to bury a three that left Xavier down seven at the half.
Anyone who has ever made a comeback in a basketball game knows that the keys are cutting the deficit to under ten at the half, and then getting over the hump. Xavier did one of those very well today. The Jackson three at the end of the half was big, but no team that was leading by 18 can be content to be leading by seven. What the Musketeers never could quite do was get over the hump.
A burst from Mark Lyons made it 44-38 with 14:37 to play, but Baylor got a quick layup to answer. One minute later, Tu Holloway cut the lead to four before a 7-2 Bears run pushed the lead back to nine with 9:37 to play. The Musketeers wouldn't go away though, and a 6-2 Mark Lyons run cut the lead to five when the under eight break hit. Every Xavier fan in the world was just waiting for Tu Holloway to take over.
Two other things happen a lot for Xavier, though, and it was those two, not Tu Holloway, that decided this game. First, Xavier went away from Kenny Frease. The big man finished with 18, but his last field goal attempt came with 11:22 to play. There is simply no logical reason for that, as the big man from Massillon was having his way inside. Secondly, Mark Lyons failed to read the game. With X down only five and threatening to finally get over the hump, Lyons contributed an airball, missed layup, and careless turnover to the three minute stretch that ultimately decided the game. With 3:38 to play, Xavier was again trailing by ten and now in desperate need of a miracle.
Instead of a miracle, Xavier got Pierre Jackson. The juco transfer was nothing short of spectacular tonight, scoring 16 on a 5-12/3-7/3-4 shooting line and also distributing ten assists. Most importantly, he found nothing but cords on a three pointer that made the Baylor lead 65-54 with 2:49 to play, twenty seconds later, Xavier was down 13.
Bizarrely enough, Justin Martin stepped up down the stretch, scoring a quick six on two three pointers as Xavier furiously tried to claw all the way back. Martin's second three made the Baylor lead six with 1:22 to play. In the span of less than a minute, the Musketeers had carved seven points off the Bears lead and were suddenly right back in the game. Xavier got a stop and then one of the best guards in the history of the program drew a foul and went to the line with a chance to cut the lead to four. The comeback was nearly within reach.
Tu Holloway was, like he always is, excellent when he needed to be. The Hempstead, New York native went for 22/4/3 and was 6-13 from the floor. From the line, Tu was 9-10. 90% is very good in almost anything, but tonight it wasn't enough. With 33 seconds to go, Tu Holloway somehow missed a free throw. As Justin Martin grabbed Quincy Acy with the foul Xavier had to give, Tu simply stood at the free throw line, bent at the waist, hands on his knees, knowing what his miss meant. Tu scored seven points after that, but Baylor executed from the line. Xavier had finally gone a bridge too far, a deficit too large. In Atlanta, on the cusp of the Elite Eight, the season was over.
-How limited are Andre Walker and Dez Wells? Very. Wells played 24 minutes and grabbed five rebounds, but said his pain was a "six, on a scale of one to ten" and never really flashed the explosive ability that sets him apart. Andre Walker was even more troubled, managing only 17 minutes and four rebounds. Walker hasn't looked right since a crashing elbow from Wells seemed to scramble his brain in the Notre Dame game. Suffering from migraines, the big man spent his bench time under a towel tonight and clearly had to make an enormous effort just to play. Good on both of them.
-Which Perry Jones III will show up? Both of them did. PJ3, as he is known, seems to be the interior answer to Mark Lyons. While Jones III did manage 14 points, he created essentially none of them, simply lingering around and scoring only buckets he was obliged to. While Quincy Acy efforted himself all over the floor, Jones III seemed content to just hang out. Still, 14 points is 14 points.
-Is Brad Redford ready to go? We may never know. By the time that Redford was on the court, the game was ticking into the final minute. Whether he could have been serviceable against a Baylor team that never really went zone is going to be a matter of internet debate until something major happens. Redford was credited with one minute of play and literally nothing else.
- It's hard to know how to feel about Acy. He was demonstrative, a bit combative, and showy. On the other hand, he clearly enjoyed playing, he took time to embrace Kenny Frease after the game and offer his respects, and he never quit moving. Love him or hate him, you could win a lot of basketball games with guys like Quincy Acy.
- In a way, this game contained all of the marks of a Xavier game this year. Kenny Frease scored well but then stopped getting the ball, Mark Lyons was an infuriating combination of basketball genius and terrible decision making, there was a huge deficit, a comeback, shaky lineup moves, and Tu Holloway trying to be the hero one more time.
- For the hundredth time, you don't have to have your feet set to draw a charge. Announcers, even those that played the game, miss this all the time. So do officials, and that is why Dee Davis only played eight minutes. If Pierre Jackson had correctly been called for a charge and Davis hadn't picked up his third foul with two minutes left in the first half, it's hard to say what have happened. That said, officials will sometimes miss calls, it happens.
- Take a moment to feel for Ohio guard Walter Offutt, who missed a free throw late that would have won the Ohio-UNC game for the Bobcats. Offutt scored a career high 26, but will only remember the one foul shot he missed.
- In the weeks to come we will recap the season, bid farewell to the departing seniors, and let you know what to look for over the summer and next season. College basketball is a year round effort for everyone involved, and we will keep you up to date every step of the way.