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March 9, 2012

Xavier Wins the War to Enhance Tourney Resume

Trailing 38-28 at the half it looked like Xavier's NCAA Tournament chances had gone by the wayside. But Tu Holloway came out of the locker room with a different look in his eye as Xavier came back from the double-digit deficit to win a thriller over Dayton 70-69 in the Quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament in Atlantic City, NJ.

In another dramatic and emotional meeting between the Musketeers and the Flyers the boys from Xavier showed enough heart down the stretch to likely punch their ticket to the "big dance" as well as defeat Dayton for the second time in the third and final meeting of the season.

Holloway opened the half with 11 points on some highlight level plays including a step-back fade-away jumpshot over Kevin Dillard from the short corner and a three-pointer off of a double-crossover the next possession down as Xavier's second mini run to start the half tied the game at 45-45 with 14:02 to go.
Prior to that Tu triggered an 11-2 run to cut the deficit to 40-39 UD as he opened the half with a driving three-point play through contact then scored on a pull-up three-pointer.

While Holloway will get the most credit for scoring it was Kenny Frease that came up big in the second half as well. Frease was able to establish position and finish around the rim off of assists from both Lyons and Holloway to give Xavier an inside-outside presence necessary to win a game of that stature. Frease also showed off improved passing abilities out of double teams as he dished out three assists around the rim to complement his scoring touch.

Xavier's numbers rebounded nicely from a first half where they shot just over 36% from the field and just 6/16 from the foul line. The Musketeers finished the game at 48% shooting behind a strong second half possession marked by better shot selection and defense that led to offense.

While the lead exchanged hands back and forth over the final few minutes the game turned into a battle between Mark Lyons and Dayton's junior PG Kevin Dillard. An 8-2 Flyers run with 5:00 left saw Dayton go up 65-61, then extend the lead to 69-63 off of two Matt Kavanaugh free throws with 3:02 remaining. But Xavier battled back.

After a Xavier bucket Mark Lyons scored a layup plus the foul to bring the Musketeers within one point at 69-68 with just 2:09 remaining. That would be the second to last field goal of the game as both teams were able to get defensive stops the next few possessions.

Coming down the court quickly after a defensive stop with just twenty seconds remaining Lyons made a high difficulty floating, and off-balanced, lay in to give Xavier the final margin at 70-69.

Dayton called two timeouts over the final twenty seconds, including the final timeout with 5.3 seconds left after junior center Matt Kavanaugh missed a short shot around the rim that likely would've won the game for Dayton. The Flyers had one last chance under the basket but Chris Johnson's jumper was well short off the Mark Lyons contest and Xavier celebrated a victory.

Holloway led Xavier with 21 points in the game, Frease scored 17, and Lyons added a late 12 to pace Xavier; while freshman wing Dez Wells contributed 9 points (including the first four points of the game).

Dayton was led by the 18 points of Kevin Dillard while Paul Williams and Josh Parker each chipped in another 11 points for the Flyers.

With the win Xavier advances to the semi-finals of the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament to face Saint Louis, a team that they have lost to twice already. The win holds more importance for Xavier fans that are looking at NCAA tournament projections as the Dayton win marks Xavier's 20th victory of the season and in all likelihood ensures that the committee will be extending an at-large big Xavier's way should they fail to win the conference tournament.

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