None of it was enough to overcome Tu Holloway though, who led Xavier with 25 points, 17 of which came in the second half, on 10-of-15 shooting, including a hanging, fadeaway bank shot with 12 seconds left from the right baseline that put Xavier ahead 64-63, and ended up being the game-winner.
"My team has faith in me. Coach Mack called my number, and at that point, we were down. I just wanted to make a play for my team. It was time to step up and be a man," he said.
"Well, Tu's -- he's made such big plays throughout the course of his career, you know, you followed him and he's -- the moment's never too big for him," Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack said. "We were very fortunate, he tried to split a ball screen late in the game and it became a loose ball and fortunately Kenny picked it up and we were able to call a timeout. But that's who he is, he's extremely courageous. He's never one to let somebody else take over. He doesn't do it selfishly. He just has a huge belief in himself. And his teammates do, as well as does his head coach."
Freshman Dez Wells then extended the lead to two by making a free-throw, but a foul by fellow freshman Dee Davis at the other end sent Notre Dame's Eric Atkins to the line with 2.8 seconds left. Atkins made the first, and the second free-throw was good after leaving his hand, but an official waved it off after Grant had entered inside the 3-point line before the ball hit the rim.
Mike Stuart, a member of the three-man officiating crew that worked the game, said in a prepared statement about the call: "The rule is that anyone outside the 3-point arc is under the same restrictions as the free throw shooter. They cannot penetrate the arc until the ball hits the rim, in which case No. 22 [Grant] was clearly way down in the lane before the ball ever hit. It's an obvious violation, by the rule."
As Xavier tried to inbound the ball to Wells on the ensuing possession, freshman Pat Connaughton was called for an intentional foul for grabbing Wells' jersey from behind. Wells sealed the win by making both free-throws.
The Atlantic-10 All-Rookie team selection finished with a double-double, 14 points and 11 rebounds, in the win.
Xavier got out to a fast start, before Notre Dame was able to get control of the tempo.
The Musketeers made their first three field goals - a Frease dunk, a Holloway pull-up three in transition and a layup by Wells - and jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead. By the first media timeout though, the Irish had cut it to a one point game with back-to-back threes by Eric Atkins and Scott Martin.
Sparked by back-to-back Frease two-handed slams, Xavier made another run, 8-0, to take a 16-9 lead on a 3-point play by Holloway with 13:00 left in the first half.
However, with Xavier's success stemming from transition points, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey put his team in a 2-3 zone, and emphasized hustling back on defense. On the other end of the court, Notre Dame implemented their burn offense, dwindling the shot clock down each possession before actually initiating their offense.
The Irish executed flawlessly in the final minutes of the first half, as Grant operated off the high screen-and-roll, finding his teammates for open looks at the end of the shot clock. Notre Dame had 12 assists on 14 field goals in the first half, and finished the half shooting 51 percent from the field.
"Their size in the back court was really effective," Mack said. "I don't want to say it's something we haven't seen before, but when Jerian Grant's six foot five and he's coming off that ball screen, it's like our guards aren't even there. It's what magic did back in the day. Just sees over the defense and throws it to who is open."
Notre Dame quickly made a 7-0 run to tie the game up 16-16 in just over a two-minute span.
The Irish's lead never got bigger than five from there in the first half, but at halftime, they held a 33-31 lead.
Xavier wanted to speed up the tempo of the game and get more transition points, but according to their coach, it's a lot easier said than done against Notre Dame.
"Well, you go back and forth as you watch tape preparing for the game and you want to really pressure them," Mack said, when talking about adjusments. "But then you look at their assist-turnover ratio and it seems like you're wasting energy. We decided to, at least going into the game, to really try to pump our kids up, that you don't have to defend for the first 24 seconds of the shot clock. Just have to defend in the last 11, which is easier said than done because they're a very high IQ team"
Holloway tied the game up immediately out of halftime, with a layup off a back-screen on a set play, but the momentum quickly shifted.
Xavier had three turnovers and two missed jumpers on their next five possessions, as Notre Dame went on an 8-0 run to make it 41-33. Freshman Pat Connaughton had five straight points to power the Irish's run. He finished the game with 10 points, on 2-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc.
Notre Dame led by as many as 10 points, after a three from Atkins at the 12:22 mark following a Xavier timeout.
In that huddle right before Atkins' three, Mack told his team to stick with it, while also making a strategic adjustment.
"In the second half, even though it was tough, tough to swallow in the timeout that we were going to switch with 12 seconds or less on the shot clock, because you have Cooley rolling in the post against a guy like Tu or Dee or Mark who are just small guys. We just felt like at least we would have a body on somebody when they tried to spread us out. And I thought it was very effective and we pressured the ball, and I thought it stagnated them a little bit," he said.
"I think the main message to our guys was just stay with it. Mentally don't break. Don't let the fact that they're playing sort of like an old man's rec game get you down and we were able to keep our mentality."
The Musketeers' defensive patience paid off as they held the Irish without scoring for four minutes, and went on a 9-0 run with a three from Lyons, three free-throws from Andre Walker and a three from Holloway.
"Offensively, we really answered the bell at the end, but defense was the real reason we won the game," Frease said. "We stopped them from running that pick and roll that was really killing us, and our guards did a good job in the post when we would switch."
Jerian Grant ended the four minute drought with a three though to push the lead back to 51-47 with 8:22 to play.
Jeff Robinson responded with a two-handed dunk off of an offensive rebound, and then Holloway tied it up with a fadeaway jumper on the right baseline with 7:08 left to play.
Robinson saw 21 minutes of action Friday, which was the most he has played since the first Saint Louis game of the year back on January 25. Frease played less minutes in the second half due to the Musketeers needing a quicker lineup with the switching defense, and also Andre Walker leaving the game after getting elbowed in the face.
"Part of that was if we were going to switch ball screens, that was going to be a really tough challenge for Kenny to be able to keep Jerian Grant or Eric Atkins in front of him, that's -- he did a pretty decent job the couple times he got isolated, but they still knocked a couple shots over him. So we didn't play him as much," Mack said. "I don't necessarily have an official prognosis (on Walker), but doc looked at me and said he'll be fine, but he just wanted to hold him out, felt like it wasn't the right thing to do to put him back in the game. Andre's a big part of our team, especially on the defensive end. But it was good to see Jeff step up. I think he'll be fine but I can't be certain."
Holloway scored eight of the next 10 Xavier points, and his steal and layup with 3:39 left gave Xavier their first lead lead at 59-58, since they had led 24-22 at the 6:30 mark of the first half.
A back-and-forth between the two teams, including another clutch 3-pointer from Grant, set-up the wild finish and Holloway's heroics in the final 30 seconds.
Despite being a 10 seed in the tournament, Xavier will be wearing their home jerseys as the higher-seeded team in the round of 32 Sunday when they take on 15th-seeded Lehigh, who upset Duke on Friday.
"Notre Dame's a really, really good team. Got a lot of respect for them," he said. "They were running a clinic there for a while on the offensive end. But down the stretch we made some huge plays, and Tu's shot off the glass driving down the lane to give us the lead was big. And he's been doing that his whole career. I'm proud of our kids. We have gone through a lot, and we continue to fight another day."
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. on Sunday.