"This game sort of avalanched on us down the stretch," Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said. "I feel bad for the guys in the locker room, because for about 35 minutes, we played as well as we have all year. Their (Memphis') length, athleticism and quickness over the last five minutes really took over, and you have to give them credit. We tried to execute some things down the stretch, but they really played tough defensively."
Sophomore guard Joe Jackson made 12-of-12 free-throw attempts, including 6-for-6 in the closing minutes, to lead Memphis with 14 points, despite shooting just 1-of-8 from the field. He also had eight assists and three steals.
Up until Holloway's 3-pointer with seven seconds left, Xavier's last field goal came on a Dez Wells' jumpshot from the short corner that he got fouled on with 6:17 left.
Both teams made it a point to establish their big men inside early in the game. Frease scored six points on seven shot attempts, while Tarik Black scored nine points on five shot attempts for Memphis in the first half. Frease won the battle of the boards though, six to four. Xavier's seven footer also showed the ability to step out and hit the jump-shot, as he knocked down a pair of jumpers from beyond 15-feet.
Black scored seven of his nine first half points in the first seven minutes. His layup with 13:26 left tied the game at 9-9 heading into the under 12 minute timeout.
The next six minutes was a battle between Mark Lyons and Dez Wells versus the Barton brothers from Memphis, Antonio and Will. Wells and Lyons each scored six points, and Andre Walker pitched in with a jumper to give Xavier a 23-22 advantage at the 5:00 mark. Memphis received six points from Will and three points from Antonio Barton during that stretch.
With the game tied 28-28 coming out of a timeout by Xavier, Wells and Lyons put the Muskies on top heading into halftime, as Wells made a pair of free-throws, and then Lyons made a 3-pointer and a couple of free-throws. Barton added four points on back-to-back layups, and then Joe Jackson made a pull-up jumper in the lane at the buzzer to cut Xavier's lead to one, 35-34 at intermission.
Xavier showed a change seldom seen on the defensive side, as they mixed in a 3-2 zone with their man-to-man during the first half. The zone seemed to give the Tigers some problems, keeping them out of the lane and encouraging jump-shots.
"We had a plan coming in to confuse them a little bit. We wanted to be able to throw the zone in and see how effective it was going to be," Mack said. "We haven't played that zone a lot this year, and we wanted to keep the basketball in front of us and identify shooters. At the end of the first half they got a couple of straight-line drives when we were playing zone, and that was frustrating to see. If anything, that should be taken away by the dribble penetration in the zone."
Xavier got off to a quick start in the second half. Their defense held Memphis scoreless until the After the first media timeout at 15:50, on a layup from Wesley Witherspoon. During that Memphis drought, Xavier took advantage and went on a 9-0 run. Holloway scored his first points of the game during this stretch on a layup with 17:16 left, and then he followed that up with a 3-pointer a few possessions later to cap Xavier's run and put them up 44-34.
The Musketeers continued to mix their defenses, between the 3-2 zone and the man-to-man, and maintained their lead for the most part. Wells' big jumper at the 6:16 mark gave Xavier a 62-51 lead, and then everything came tumbling down for the Musketeers.
Witherspoon started with a three, and then after a pair of Joe Jackson free-throws, Witherspoon quickly cut Xavier's lead to just four in less than a minute in a half with an old-fashioned 3-point play.
The Musketeers failed to execute down the stretch as they tried to go to different players, including Frease, Holloway and Wells, who were all stopped by Memphis defenders.
"We didn't get the clean looks, and then they went on that 15-0 run," Mack said. "I felt sick for our kids. That is a tough one."
After the game, Memphis Head Coach Josh Pastner said he was proud of his team's defense down the stretch and said Holloway went out of his way to compliment Memphis' defense.
"As I was going through the handshake line, Tu Holloway grabbed me and said, 'Coach, that's the best defense I've played against all year. You guys are terrific defensively,'" Pastner said. "I'm proud of our guys on that. I thought the press was good late in the game to change the pace a bit. We stayed man the whole game. I was thinking zone a couple times, but I just felt we should stay accountable and stay in man."
Antonio Barton's layup with 2:46 left made it 63-61, and then another pair of free-throws from Jackson tied it. Antonio Barton gave Memphis the lead for good with 1:27 left on another layup. The Tigers would finish the game out with seven straight free-throws to seal the victory.
Xavier was led by Wells with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He also added five rebounds and four assists.
Lyons finished with 14 points, while Holloway added 12 points and seven assists, but was just 3-of-12 from the field.
One of the keys for Xavier to this game was getting some production out of the post, and they did get solid efforts from Walker and Frease. Frease had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Walker had seven points and six boards.
Xavier didn't get burnt too bad by any specific member of the Tigers' roster. Memphis won the game with their overall athleticism and length at the end of the game by really making life difficult on Xavier's offense by amping up their defensive pressure.
The Tigers had four players in double figures. In addition to jackson's 14, Black and Will Barton both added 13 and Witherspoon had 12.
Xavier falls to 15-8 with the loss. Their next game is at home against Rhode Island on Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.