"The two offensive rebounds at the free-throw line were really game-enders," Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said. "We were able to get the ball out to Tu and get fouled - it was a big-time play."
Frease did a whole lot more than just provide Xavier with two extra opportunities to ice the game at the end. He finished with a double-double, 19 points and 14 rebounds, and was a consistent presence on the court the entire game, playing 29 minutes and only fouling once.
"This was probably Kenny Frease's best game of his senior year, and arguably the best of his career," Mack said about his big man.
"They haven't cheered my name in this arena since I was in high school," Frease joked after the game. "I'm just excited that we won. All the things that we've gone through just as a team to beat a team like that, they play a really different style, it takes a long time to prepare for a team like them. For us to get that win was big for us. We've still got a lot to play for, I think that's something that we need to remember moving forward."
While Xavier needed some big hustle plays by Frease to survive, it was a hot start that put them in position to win.
The Musketeers came out like gangbusters on defense, as Richmond missed their first 10 shots and Xavier raced out to a 16-0 lead.
"We really were just in tune with what our defensive game-plan was," senior forward Andre Walker said about their start defensively. "The scout guys did a really good job of mimicking their offense, and during practice we were just really locked in. Like I've talked about before, there was a lot of talking and everybody was in their gaps and knew where their man was going. We were all just working as one."
The Musketeers found early success on offense by pushing the pace with Lyons spending more time at the point, and Holloway running on the wing. They also made it a point to get it into Kenny Frease, who finished with eight first half points and four rebounds. The Musketeers owned a 16-6 advantage when it came to points in the paint in the first half.
"Number one, he worked really hard to establish low-post position," Mack said about Xavier finding Frease throughout the game. "I would say 80 percent of the game offensively, we didn't bring him out on the floor. We ran more pass and cut and kept Kenny really close to the basket. It confuses Richmond, they're not sure who they're passing along to who when there are multiple cutters - and it gives Kenny a chance to just flash one-on-one in the post, while other defenders can't really sit down and double him or crowd him. He did a great job of demanding the basketball. It takes two to tango. I thought our guards were really looking strongly for Kenny. That was good to see."
It took 11 minutes and 25 seconds before Richmond would finally find its way onto the scoreboard via a 3-pointer by 270-pound forward Derrick Williams. Leading up to the shot, the Spiders had nine turnovers, which Xavier converted into eight points.
But after dominating for the first 12 minutes of the half, Xavier had to fight to hang onto its lead. Following Williams' three, Richmond outscored Xavier 22-9 over the final 8:35 and trailed by just three, 25-22 at the half. The Musketeers' last basket came at the 3:19 mark.
During the stretch, Richmond freshman Kendall Anthony came off the bench to give the Spiders a spark with six quick points. As a team, Richmond made 7-for-11 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line with no turnovers in the final eight minutes.
Missed shots around the rim and turnovers were once again the Musketeers' downfall late in the half. After making three of his first four shots, Frease finished the half by missing all of his final five attempts. The big men who played in the first half (Frease, Walker, Travis Taylor and Jeff Robinson) were a combined 6-for-17. Xavier was 2-for-11 total as a team and turned the ball over five times during Richmond's run.
"We built a lead because we got stops on the defensive end, and on offense we were confusing them with our cutting actions," Mack said. "I don't know if we got too cute, but we certainly got careless with the basketball on a few of their misses, our run-outs where we gave them confidence because they couldn't score in the half-court and all of a sudden they get two or three breakaway layups that we can't defend."
Mack's message to his team at halftime was simple:
"'Settle down. Don't turn the ball over. Be who we were early on,'" he said. "I thought we did that. It was good to see, because we got down, they made some tough shots in the second half, but we continued to stay with what we talked about."
Out of halftime, Holloway gave Xavier a little bit of breathing room with a pull-up three at the 18:00 minute mark to make it 32-24. However, the second half would be a game of closely contested the rest of the way.
Richmond tied the game up for the first time at the 13:31 mark on a three from Greg Robbins, which made it 35-35. They took their first lead a possession later on a Kendall Anthony bucket.
Frease cut it to a one possession game with 10:22 left on a dunk off a pass from Holloway. A possession later, Holloway captured the lead back for Xavier on a 3-point play.
While Richmond would tie it up three more times briefly, they would never take the lead back from the Muskies, as Xavier's seniors stepped up down the stretch. Andre Walker scored with 8:10 left to break a tie, only to have Darien Brothers tie it back up at the other end with a jumper. Redford followed it up with a baseline fadeaway to give the Musketeers the lead once more. When Brothers tied it again with a jump shot just inside the 7:00 mark, Frease stepped up with a bucket to put Xavier ahead for good 48-46 with 6:31 to play.
After attempting just three shots total in the first half and only having eight points in the game at the final media timeout, Holloway became more aggressive with the game on the line in the final minutes. The senior point guard scored eight of his 16 points in the final 3:30.
Lyons rounded out the scorers in double-figures with 10.
Xavier's win keeps them in the hunt for an at-large bid, with a huge game looming Tuesday against Saint Louis. The Billikens are currently 23 in the RPI, and would give the Musketeers a huge resume building win in their second to last game of the season.
"It felt good just to get a win under our belt again. Any win feels good," Walker said. "Regardless of who we're playing against on Tuesday, we just needed to get back on the winning track. It felt good watching Kenny do what I knew he can do ever night. I was proud of him. It just felt good - everybody was cheering each other on, we played like a team today."