GREENSBORO, N.C. — Tu Holloway kept attacking the paint and knocking down tough shots for Xavier throughout the second half. It's no surprise the senior guard came through with the basket to help the Musketeers advance in the NCAA tournament.
Holloway banked in the go-ahead shot over Jack Cooley with 21.3 seconds left, helping Xavier rally to beat Notre Dame 67-63 on Friday night in the second round of the South Regional.
Holloway finished with 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting, including a flurry that helped the 10th-seeded Musketeers (22-12) rally from 10 down in the second half against the seventh-seeded Fighting Irish (22-12).
"He's made such big plays through the course of his career," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "The moment's never too big for him."
Holloway had 17 points in the second half, the last coming when he rounded a screen from Kenny Frease and sent a high-arcing shot over Cooley's outstretched arm for the 64-63 lead.
"Coach Mack called my number, and it's a shot I practiced over the summer," Holloway said. "I work hard for moments like this, and fortunately through the graces of God the ball went in. I knew it was big."
After a free throw from Dezmine Wells pushed the lead to two, Notre Dame's Eric Atkins drew a blocking foul to get to the line with 2.8 seconds left. He swished the first free throw, but official Michael Stuart ruled that Jerian Grant left his position behind the 3-point arc too early as he ran in for a rebound, giving the ball back to Xavier.
The same unusual call was made at a critical moment of top-seeded Syracuse's 72-65 victory over UNC Asheville during the second round of the East Regional on Thursday.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, Pat Connaughton was whistled for an intentional foul when he grabbed Wells' jersey trying to deny him the ball. Wells knocked down both free throws to push the lead to four with 2.8 seconds still on the clock to ensure the victory.
"It's too bad that happens, but there was a lot of plays," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of the lane-violation call. "We missed some free throws. There were a lot of plays that culminated in not being able to escape with a win."
The Musketeers will face Lehigh, which pulled one of two shockers by No. 15 seeds Friday in stunning second-seeded Duke 75-70 in the Blue Devils' home state and in an arena where they had never lost.
Xavier's move into the third round isn't a huge surprise considering the Musketeers started the year ranked in the top 10, though a reputation-destroying brawl in the final seconds of the win against Cincinnati on Dec. 10 nearly derailed a promising season.
That led to suspensions of varying lengths for three top players – including Holloway – and the Musketeers lost five of six afterward. Then they alternated wins and losses for all of February before solidifying their NCAA bid by reaching the final of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
"Ups and downs in life it makes you who are," Holloway said. "I always tell the guys that when things are looking bad for us, hey, everyone counted us out. It's a great opportunity to come and show people what you're all about."
Cooley finished with 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting for the Fighting Irish, who couldn't slow Holloway in the second half. Notre Dame led 48-38 on Atkins' 3-pointer with 12:20 left, but Xavier answered with nine straight points to get back in it. At one point, Holloway scored 11 of his team's 17 points to give the Musketeers a 59-58 lead with 3:43 left.
Grant put the Fighting Irish back up with a 3 with 1:01 left to beat the shot clock, but Mark Lyons scored on the left baseline on the next possession to set up Holloway's go-ahead score.
Wells finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for Xavier, while Frease finished with 10 points. Xavier also played much of the second half without forward Andre Walker, who took a blow to the head in a tussle under the basket and was "a little woozy," according to Mack.
For the Fighting Irish, it was a frustrating finish to a bumpy season. Notre Dame lost preseason all-Big East pick Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending knee injury in November and stood at just 11-8 in the middle of January before a nine-game winning streak – starting against unbeaten Syracuse – finally got Notre Dame moving.
Notre Dame shot 51 percent while Xavier shot 50 percent, with neither team leading by more than three in the final 5 minutes until Wells' final free throws.
"It's a game of runs," Irish senior Scott Martin said. "We swapped back and forth, and they made the last run and got the win."