Xavier Dances Past Cinderella Lehigh

Xavier Dances Past Cinderella Lehigh

For the second time in just his third year as head coach, Chris Mack will be leading Xavier into the Sweet 16.

Powered by senior center Kenny Frease's career-high 25 points and 12 rebounds, Mack's Musketeers overcame a 15-point first half deficit to pull-off a 70-58 win and punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. The win makes Xavier one of four teams that have made four Sweet 16s in the last five years, joining North Carolina, Michigan State and Kansas.

Frease played arguably his best game in a Xavier uniform, taking advantage of Lehigh's lack of size, and finishing with aggression in the post.

"My guards were really putting me in a lot of good positions," Frease said. "I wouldn't have been able to score a lot of the points that I did if it wasn't for those guys putting me in good positions. They were finding me at the right times and all I had to do -- they made my job really easy. All I had to do was turn and finish. So that's a credit to them."

However, he'd be one of the few bright spots for Xavier early on, as the Musketeers faced some adversity in the first 20 minutes.

The struggles started when Lyons picked up his second foul and was relegated to the bench with 13:08 left in the first half.

Freshman Dee Davis was forced to step up in his absence and responded in a big way, as the freshman took a charge and then nailed back-to-back threes, the second of which made it it a three-point game, 15-12 with 12:36 until halftime. Davis took a second charge later in the half, that would result in Lehigh star guard CJ McCollum's second foul.

But more issues would arise for Xavier, as Lehigh's John Adams rolled up on Dez Wells early in the half and injured his toe.

"He got tangled up on a loose ball rebound and I think his foot was planted and the kid from Lehigh accidentally fell on top of him, and he tried to gut it out," Mack said. "I could tell he kept looking at the bench.  He was trying to limp through it, but you could tell he lost his effectiveness."

"In terms of where we go from here, it's way too early to predict, but he'll live in the training room this week and hopefully be able to give it a go next weekend."

Another reserve forced into the lineup made good on his opportunity, as Justin Martin provided a spark off the bench. He finished a layup on a baseline cut, and then had a massive block on what looked like a wide-open layup for Lehigh guard Mackey McKnight.

"I went into halftime and I singled those two (Justin Martin and Dee Davis) out in front of the team and said, 'Justin and Dee, absolutely great job,'" Mack said."We couldn't ask for more in terms of their effort, the energy they brought, the points they brought.  Those two really helped our team and I think there was a big time togetherness in that locker room.  It's great to see when your role players who maybe don't get the opportunities as much as the starters can come in.  I think we ended up with 12 points off the bench, 18 or 19 rebounds from our bench.  That's big time production in a game that matters."

While all the hype surrounded McCollum coming into the game, it was the sophomore point guard McKnight who stole the show for Lehigh. With McCollum struggling to get going early, going just 2-of-6 from the floor and picking up two fouls by the seven minute mark, McKnight led all scorers in the first half with 14 points.

A McKnight 3-pointer at the 10:58 mark prompted a 10-0 Lehigh run. Kenny Frease finally ended the 3:23 offensive drought for Xavier with a dunk to make it 29-16 heading into the under eight minute media timeout.

The 7-footer didn't get the ball too much early in the game, but he finished when he did get his opportunities, finishing the first half 6-for 6 with 12 points.

Xavier trailed 33-18 going into the final media timeout, and looked to be in trouble with Lyons' saddled to the bench, Wells in the locker room having his toe checked out, and Walker checking in and out of the game.

However, over the final four minutes Xavier made a 15-4 run, sparked by points from two reserve forwards. Jeff Robinson made a pair of free-throws immediately out of the timeout, and Justin Martin made a layup on a baseline cut to the basket. The usual suspects took over from there for the Musketeers, as Holloway hit a three, Frease got a tip-in, Lyons made a three and then Holloway hit a stepback three on the wing at the buzzer to make it 37-33 at intermission.

"I thought that the last three minutes of the first half put us in a great position," Mack said. "We did hit a couple shots but we got some stops defensively.  We went into halftime and I think our kids are smart enough to realize we're only down four, it's our possession, and we really talked about, hey, that first four minutes of the second half cannot be the same as we started off the game.  We have to have a different resolve about us.  We have to have a different energy.  And I thought we really did defensively."

The momentum from the end of the first half spilled over into the second half for Xavier, as five straight points from Frease gave Xavier a 38-37 lead less than a minute into the half. Holloway's layup a possession later extended Xavier's run to 22-4, stretching back to the last minutes of the first half, and forced Lehigh Head Coach Brett Reed to call a timeout.

The Mountain Hawks didn't go away though.

McCollum got it going later in the game, and made some tough shots to keep his team in the game. Xavier's lead never got bigger than seven, at 47-40, but coming out of the under eight minute media timeout, the game was tied up 52-52 again.

An 8-0 Xavier run, triggered by a Holloway three immediately out of the timeout, put Xavier ahead for good.

The Musketeers' defense was lockdown in the second half. They held the Mountain Hawks scoreless for over seven minutes from 8:17 to 1:08, as they made their decisive run. Lehigh shot 14.7 percent in the second half, connecting on just five of their 34 attempts.

"Well, I think, number one, we wanted to do a better job in transition," Mack said about his team's defensive adjustments in the second half. "I thought they were playing downhill in the first half, our guards weren't getting back. And in the second half, we put them in the half court a little bit more, which is advantage us. It puts a little bit more pressure on them to score in the half court and execute."

Holloway led Xavier down the stretch, scoring 14 of his 21 points in the second half. He also nailed 4-of-8 three-point attempts.

But what was more impressive than anything he did on offense, was his defense against McCollum. McCollum ended up with 14 points, but he did it on a 5-of-22 shooting performance from the field, including 0-for-6 from three, and he had four turnovers.

"C.J. McCollum is -- Seth Curry or even Jordan Crawford that played here with us a few years ago, he's a pro, and it really wasn't my defense," Holloway said.  "A few times I beat him and Dee Davis was in the gap to help me out or they were using a ball screen and Kenny Frease is there to contest it and make it a tough shot for him.  But he's a great player.  I'm exhausted after the game, and I tried my hardest against him.  So I know it was a big stage and he's going to try to go out there and be aggressive and score.  So I just tried my hardest to go out there and play as best a defense as I can on him."

"I thought Tu Holloway did a tremendous job of chasing C.J. McCollum," Mack added. "I watched that kid on tape coming into the game and he's a pro.  I mean, I liken him to a Jordan Crawford that we had a few years ago.  He can absolutely take over games and Tu recognized that and did a great job chasing him."

Xavier now advances to the Sweet 16 to take on third-seeded Baylor, which defeated Colorado Saturday.

"It's an amazing accomplishment, but it's not something that we want to be final for our program.  Now we have been to four Sweet 16s in the last five seasons, and it's so doggone awfully difficult to get there, and whether you play your best at the end of the year or whether you have your ups and downs during the middle of the year, you want to be playing as well as you possibly can play down the stretch.  And I'm just proud of this group to come together, but we have got more work to do and more basketball to play.  We got some seniors in the locker room that don't want their careers to be over and never more evident than the second half of today."

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