The Musketeers made a run in the second half, but a 13-point deficit at halftime, and a determined Andrew Nicholson was just too much for a weary team to overcome.
Nicholson, the conference player of the year, completely dominated the game, narrowly missing a triple-double with 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks.
"Man is he good," Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said. "Twenty-six points, 14 rebounds, he doesn't miss a free-throw, 6-9, shoots the ball from the free, blocks eight shots. We had a good plan that we were able to execute in game one and really crowd him and make it difficult. He did a better job, he out-executed our plan. He's unselfish, he gives it to you any way you want it. He's a poor man's Tim Duncan, by far the best player in our league and an NBA team needs to take him in the first round, period. Glad he's gone, great kid, though."
Xavier came out ice cold from the field and flat on offense. The big difference in the first half was St. Bonaventure connecting on 5-of-11 threes, while Xavier missed all seven of their attempts from beyond the arc.
After providing a major lift for Xavier on offense the past several games, Kenny Frease wasn't nearly as involved in the offense in the first half, as the backcourt tried to take matters into their own hands. The guards finished 6-for-16 in the first half from the field, and 2-for-10 without Holloway's 4-for-6 performance.
"Everybody has off shooting nights," Frease said about Xavier's offense. "I don't know if it was anything that they were particularly doing, a lot of the shots that we were taking we usually make. I don't think it's anybody's individual fault, or anything like that, I think we were just missing shots."
The Musketeers had just three assists on nine field goals in the first half.
Mack said after the game that the Bonnies had as much to do with Xavier's poor offensive first half, as his kids missing shots.
"Well, their size had a lot to do with it," he said. "They're a very physical, strong team. We hurt 'em in the first game and really came out and shot the ball well, we were out in transition and today you know when you play your third game in three days it's a little bit tough on the legs to push the basketball and get as many transition looks but we needed to do that. But they're long around the basket, and we just had a tough time
gettin' open looks. I thought we did a better job in the second half
but we were impatient in the first half and their size had a lot to do
Xavier didn't come storming out of the locker rooms like on Saturday, in fact, they failed to score for the first four minutes of the half. Fortunately for the Muskies, the Bonnies were only able to muster four points themselves during that stretch, pushing their lead to 41-24.
A quick 4-0 run, courtesy of a Travis Taylor bucket and a steal and layup by Lyons in transition, ended the run and cut it back to a 13-point game at the first media timeout with 15:09 left.
That's when the Musketeers made their move.
Another Lyons layup, and then a 3-pointer gave the junior guard seven straight points. Holloway's free-throws at the 13:06 mark made it 41-35 and capped an 11-0 run for the Musketeers.
Nicholson ended the Bonnies' nearly six-minute drought with a pair of free-throws at the 12:28 mark. His offensive rebound and two-hand power dunk a possession later curbed Xavier's run and pushed the lead back to double-digits, 45-35.
Dez Wells, who scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half Saturday against Saint Louis, didn't score until the 10:03 mark in the second half, but the free-throw to complete his 3-point play made it 45-41, shrinking the Bonnies' lead to its smallest point since it was 7-5 at the 14:00 mark of the first half.
The Musketeers would never quite get over the hump though.
Nicholson scored eight points over the final nine minutes, including hitting all six free-throws down the stretch to seal the win and sophomore guard Charlon Kloof added six points in the final four minutes.
The Musketeers were outrebounded 42-29 for the game, and despite Andre Walker's seven offensive rebounds, the combination of a 33 percent performance from the field and the Bonnies dominating the glass spelled doom for Xavier.
"We have been able to climb out of deficits like that all season. We sort of made it a habit of getting down in games, but I don't think when we were down 17 we were -- even 10 or 11 with 10 minutes to go we -- never counted ourselves out of the game. I personally wanted to make plays down the stretch for my team and like Coach said, we weren't able to rebound and get
possession and that's what ended up helping them win the game."
Holloway led Xavier with 17 points and Lyons chipped in with 16.
While Xavier wasn't able to bring back the Atlantic 10 Championship as they had set out to do, the trip was far from a waste. The Musketeers left no doubt as to their NCAA tournament status, and won't have to be nervous as they see their name called for the seventh straight year on the NCAA Selection Show at 6 p.m.
"I am proud of how this group came together," Mack said. "It's been a difficult year, a lot of up's and down's, but this group of guys, the way we were able to come together at the end of the year, get to the point where we played in the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship, as I told them in the locker room I loved coaching this group this weekend."
"We have more basketball to play, it's a tough pill to swallow, but at the same time for me personally it's very, very bitter sweet, because one of my best friends, if not my best friend in the business, is the guy coaching the Bonnies’. I know where he brought that team from, the depths they were in when he took over, so as tough of a moment as this is for my team, our
program, myself, I could not be happier for Mark Schmidt and what he has accomplished, and I wish him and those guys the best as they play next weekend."