As he's done so many times before, Holloway helped seal the win for Xavier
down the stretch with some big shots. This time though, he had a sidekick, as fellow senior Frease was the driving force behind Xavier all day long.
Frease finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Holloway led the Musketeers with 24 points. Even more importantly, the two closed the game down the stretch after Xavier had trailed by seven at the half, and by as many as 14 at one point.
With Charlotte being in sole possession of the lead since the 15:00 mark of the first half, a layup by Frease with 6:39 left to play tied it up at 56-56. That bucket started a 16-5 Xavier run that was capped off by a Holloway 3-pointer to beat the shot clock after a long possession that took the game clock under two minutes and put Xavier up 70-61, essentially sealing the win. Holloway and Frease combined for all 16 points during that run, with Holloway scoring 10 and Frease adding six.
"I'm happy for them, because a lot of times on senior night guys try to go out the way they want to be remembered and they can't get out of their own way sometimes," Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said. "That wasn't the case tonight. Kenny was really, really effective. He played extremely hard. He went in for offensive rebounds and grabbed five of them. He played extremely well. Tu, I thought he hit three huge shots.The one before the half, being down 14 with two and a half minutes is a lot different than going into the locker room down seven with the ball coming out, his and-one after he picked up his fourth foul puts us up five and then his three right in front of our bench with one second on the shot clock - very fitting for the type of shots Tu's hit his entire career - big shots today when we really needed them."
Frease gave Xavier a 5-0 head start over the 49ers. The Musketeers found their big man on the first two possessions for buckets in the post, and then rewarded him on the third with a set play that resulted in him heading to the free-throw line and making one of two.
Frease scored seven of Xavier's first 11 points in the game, but as has been the case for this Xavier team throughout the year, they had two extended funks in the first half to allow Charlotte to run up a big lead.
The first Charlotte run came at the 15:00 mark after the game was tied at 9-9. A DeMario Mayfield three sparked an 8-2 run over the next four minutes for the 49ers, and they captured a 17-11 lead.
Four straight points for Holloway though, and then a Frease basket with 7:34 to play in the first half kept Xavier close and cut it to a one possession game, 19-17.
Frease picked up his second foul and left the game with 6:05 left. Over the next four minutes, Xavier couldn't get a stop on the defensive end, as Charlotte went on a 22-6 run that was capped off by another three from Mayfield to put the 49ers up 37-23 with 2:21 left in the half.
"We couldn't guard the ball," Mack said about his team's issues coming down the stretch in the first half. "When their center is taking you from the top of the key and is going off one foot for layups… We haven't been great defensively, but I've never seen that before. It had to change. We mixed up a little zone in both the first half and the second half. I thought it was fairly effective. We're still not perfect in it, we gave up some open threes that fortunately they didn't hit, but the reason we turned it around was because we started playing a heck of a lot harder."
With Frease out of the game, Charlotte big man Chris Braswell dominated during that run for the 49ers, scoring nine points. He finished the first half with 16 points and six rebounds.
"It effected us a lot," Mack said about Frease checking out of the game. "In the time Kenny went on the bench with two fouls, they went on a huge run. Travis (Taylor) has got to do a better job both in the post and on the perimeter, and then we have to do a better job of surrounding the basketball and not having the guys drive without any help. I don't know if it was Kenny going out or just our inability on the defensive end, but certainly when he went out we were terrible."
The Musketeers were able to find a little momentum, scoring four straight points after Mayfield's three. Then with clock winding down on the final possession of the half, Holloway isolated his defender one-on-one before nailing a fadeaway jumper from just inside the arc. That made it 37-30 at halftime.
Xavier was led by Holloway's 12 points and Frease's nine points and six boards at the half. Other than those two players though, the Musketeers struggled across the board.
"I got a bunch of needles out and put some adrenaline in and went around the room to each player and ejected as much as I could in the allotted time at halftime," Mack deadpanned after the game about how he got his team going during intermission.
Frease added that his fellow teammates knew what was at stake and never hit the panic button inside the locker room.
"We knew that in order to put ourselves in a good position for the Atlantic-10 Tournament we had to win this game," the 7-footer said. "Coming into halftime when we had fallen quick, we got the guys together in the locker room and we were able to bounce back. There was no sense of emergency or anything like that. We knew that if we could just start playing, we'd be alright. Guys knew that this was a game that we really had to win. It wasn't tough to get the guys motivated, that's for sure."
Mixing in some 3-2 zone with their typical man-to-man approach, Xavier's defense was better in the second half. They briefly stole the lead on a baseline jumper from Jeff Robinson with 13:41 to play, but the lead would be short-lived as Braswell stole it back a possession later with a 3-point play. Braswell still managed 28 points and nine rebounds, but the Musketeers seemed to be able to negate his presence a little bit down the stretch.
"We were just starting to do our work earlier on him in the second half," Andre Walker said after the game about how they adjusted to Charlotte's big man. "The first half he had a lot of easy layups and straight line drives to the basket. We just had to be there in the gaps and play him more for his right hand, and basically just be one unit and not just five individuals on defense."
The two teams traded buckets from that point forward, with the 49ers allowing their lead to bounce around a little bit before Frease finally tied it back up with 6:39 to play, setting up his and Holloway's big 16-5 run.
Before the game both players, along with Andre Walker, were honored out on the court with the annual senior day festivities, including a walk across the court accompanied by family to shake hands with Coach Mack, Father Graham and receive a framed action photo. Holloway said the coolest part of the day was getting to have his family in attendance.
"My grandmother was here for the first time," he said. "She's seen games on TV, but it was her first time in Cintas Center."
With the win, the Musketeers clinched a first round bye in the Atlantic-10 tournament and will play their first game on riday night at 9 p.m. Xavier will take on the winner of Dayton and George Washington who play on Tuesday night.
"It's an opportunity for us to start over," Frease said. "It's going to be a new season. Everybody is going into this with a clean slate. We've been able to put a lot of things behind us this season, just with everything that's happened, so I think this is just going to be a new beginning for us. We started off this season really well, maybe we can start off this next one well."
In their final regular-season game ever at the Cintas Center, Kenny Frease and Tu Holloway gave Xavier exactly what they needed to forge a second-half comeback and escape with a win over Charlotte 72-63 Saturday afternoon.
Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease combined for 42 of Xavier's 72 points in Saturday's win on Senior day.