In perhaps the biggest bubble game on Friday, Xavier staged a late-rally to beat Dayton 70-69 in the final Atlantic 10 quarterfinal matchup.
Tu Holloway led the way with 21 points and five assists, which isn’t all that notable — he had 32 the last time these two teams got together — until you consider the fact that he had 21 points and five assists with 12 minutes left in the game. Yes, the nation’s leader in clutchacity (yes, I made up that word, but it’s pretty awesome, right?) sparked the Musketeer run that erased a double-digit halftime lead, but he was no where to be found down the stretch.
And Xavier was still able to win despite the fact that they trailed by six points with three minutes left.
The credit falls squarely on the shoulders of Mark Lyons, the enigmatic junior two-guard who hit a bit of a slump late in the season. After hitting a pair of free throws to cut Dayton’s lead to 69-65, Lyons drove and picked up a tough and-one layup to cut the lead to a single point. After a couple of scoreless possessions on either side, Lyons drove left and, at full-speed, laid in a one-handed, lefty scoop shot off the glass. It was not an easy move to make, and Lyons hit it.
Dayton would miss a pair of shots at the other end of the floor, and Xavier would escape with their NCAA Tournament lives while Dayton will likely be NIT-bound.
This win probably does enough to put Xavier into the NCAA Tournament over the Flyers. The Musketeers could rest easier is they knock off St. Louis on Saturday night in the semifinals, but with the number of bubble teams that have lost this week, Chris Mack’s club looks like it is in pretty good shape regardless of how the weekend plays out.
And that is why Xavier fans should be excited about this performance.
Look, the Musketeers have plenty of talent on their roster. There aren’t five back courts in the country that I would take over Holloway and Lyons when Holloway and Lyons are playing the way they are supposed to be playing. Holloway has had a couple of no-show performances over the last few weeks, but my naive side comes out when I say that I think he is going to show up to play in the NCAA Tournament as a senior. If Lyons can build on the seven points he had to close out this game and Frease continues to play the way he has played of late — he’s averaging 15.2 ppg and 9.4 rpg over his last five games — than the Musketeers could stir up some trouble in the first round of the tournament.
Given their reputation over the last decade or so, do you really feel comfortable betting against this program?