Holloway Going Out on His Own Terms

After Xavier's 70-58 win over Lehigh Sunday night, star point guard Tu Holloway was sitting in front of his locker doing interviews with the media. Holloway started by quoting rap lyrics to answer a question, before breaking into a smile.

"It feels good to be back," he said in a voice filled with child-like excitement.

In this instance he was talking about the Sweet 16.

But Holloway's words seemed to go beyond that.

Before the comebacks against Vanderbilt and Purdue, the domination of Cincinnati, the brawl, the now infamous postgame presser following the brawl, the suspensions, the embarrassment at Dayton, the run through Atlantic City, the game-winner against Notre Dame or any of the other ups and downs of this roller-coaster season for Holloway, there was last March.

"This is my third time going. I took it for granted my first two years. I just felt like it was easy to get here," Holloway added. "Last year, I really saw how hard it was because we lost in the first round of the tournament."

And maybe more than anything, it was how they lost. Marquette took it to Xavier from start to finish by completely bottling up Holloway, and rendering the rest of Xavier's offense (outside of The Sheriff's 16 point effort) useless. The Musketeers only mustered 55 points, and Holloway was held to just five himself, to go along with five turnovers.

That performance had a lasting impression on Holloway clearly. After entering his name in the draft, and then pulling his name back out of the draft shortly thereafter, Holloway pointed to last season's final game against Marquette as one of the motivating factors for returning for his senior season.

Ultimately, Holloway's plan had never been to come back though. A run through the tournament like the Musketeers had experienced his sophomore year, and a Jordan Crawford-like performance from Holloway would have likely kept his name in the NBA draft, even with the pending lockout.

"Yeah, you know, because I felt like at that point in my life I felt like I was ready," Holloway told the Cincinnati Enquirer in an interview before the season. "Coming back this year, I just have to do everything I did last year. It's going to be hard for me to have two triple-doubles. It's going to be hard for me to go score 30 points in a couple games. I knew that everything was at stake. The main thing is that I knew I let my team down. Anyone that knows me will say, ‘Tu's the toughest guy I know.' And I feel like I'm a smart dude and that I can take my whole team on my back. Whatever situation I'm around, I take the blame for it every time. So I take the blame for losing the game – I know I let my team down – and the second thought in my head was, ‘Wow, I really have to come back to college a whole other year' when I was ready to be out."


"It's good that we went through ups and downs this year and we persevered. We made it here. We took shots from everybody across the country, just saying that we couldn't do this, or we couldn't do that, or we didn't have good leadership… things like that. We didn't think about that. It was all ammo for us to be able to play in games like this and know that we could get to the Sweet 16 this year."

Xavier may not have thought about what was being said by the outside world to the point that it ever affected their resolve in the locker room, but it's tough to believe that the comments, particularly about the team's leadership, don't eat at Holloway, at least a little bit.

It's hard to blame him.

With a career achievement list that includes third-place on Xavier's all-time assist list with 545 assists, sixth on Xavier's all-time scoring list with 1,811 points, the school record of 665 career free-throws and a Third Team AP All-American selection as a junior, Holloway has left an indelible footprint on the Xavier program.

While playing his first three years with one of the most well known vocal leaders in the history of the program in Dante Jackson, Holloway became known as somewhat of a quiet assassin. A leader by example, if you will.

He developed a reputation for his toughness and work ethic. He elevated the play of everybody else on the court, but worked harder than anybody else off of it. His talent, drive and willingness to take over in the most crucial moments made him the undoubted alpha-male of Xavier's pack.

However, it didn't necessarily make him a natural leader, and the vocal side of things was anything but natural for him. Frustration comes quick to the extremely self-motivated and talented guard when dealing with teammates who aren't as talented.

So the easiest thing for Holloway to do was lead on the court with his toughness and by carrying the team at the ends of big games.

However, a few minutes in front of a microphone on December 10 following Holloway's redemption against Cincinnati completely changed the meaning of toughness for the New York guard. His image that he had always fought hard to maintain, was now the one that the national media, and seemingly everyone else with cable television and a social media account, were attacking, while calling his character into question.

Then the losses came.

After looking like he was leading Xavier towards a top four seed line in the dance and had them ranked eighth in the nation with an unblemished record, the brawl fall-out and suspensions coincided with Xavier's inconsistency issues becoming a lot more consistent, and in turn Holloway became one of the scapegoats, as the Musketeers posted their worst conference record (10-6) since the 2005-06 team went 8-8.

In an embarrassing loss at Dayton, Holloway, along with his teammates, came out flat and struggled to contain Kevin Dillard, as he pushed the Flyers out to a 13 point halftime lead. The tough shots in the lane never ended up falling for Holloway at UD Arena that Saturday. There would be no miraculous comeback like the Musketeers had made a habit of earlier in the season.

In early February, an ESPN piece by Dana O'Neil came out that seemed to have a sympathetic slant toward the All-American -- a first from a national media member since the brawl. However, the most talked about part of the article was a quote from Holloway saying that the game wasn't fun for him anymore, which didn't help the perception of him being a leader at a time where it was questionable whether the team would be able to pull it together for conference play after losing eight of 16 games following the Cincinnati game.

The season that had started with Holloway trying to redeem his tournament performance against Marquette and raise his draft stock, had now become a season where his entire reputation, legacy and future were on the line and in question.

"It bothered me a lot," Holloway said when asked if he thought about how his legacy would be viewed had he not made it back to the tournament. "I'd be on the plane, a little depressed, and thinking about how the regular season would finish. It started to eat at me a little bit."

"You know, I had a big talk with Coach Mack right before we played Saint Louis, and he told me about guys that didn't finish well around here, so no matter what I did my first three years, I felt like everyone would just remember me not being able to lead my team to the NCAA Tournament, so you know it was tough just thinking about it every game after losses or bad practices or something


As Kenny Frease came out to set a ball-screen with 25 seconds left and Xavier trailing Notre Dame 63-62 Friday night, there wasn't any doubt who would be taking the shot for Xavier.

All eyes were on No. 52, as he drove from left to right across the lane, stringing 6-foot-9 Jack Cooley out until he ran out of room heading toward the baseline. As we've seen him do so many times before, the master of creating space leaned in before running out toward the baseline and lofting a high-arching, hanging fadeaway softly off the glass and through the net.

"It's amazing, because you know, you see him do it ten times and you're like, 'He might not do it that eleventh time,' but he's like Superman on the court. He always comes through for us in the clutch," Mark Lyons said. "We have great confidence if we give him the ball at the end to make plays for us."

The eventual game-winner wasn't a shock to anyone watching. In fact, had you been listening in on his and Lyons' conversation earlier in the half, Holloway would have told you he was going to do it himself.

"Yeah, I told him - I think it was maybe five or six minutes left in the game - and I said, if it comes down to us making a big play, I told him that I was going to be the one to hit the shot for us to win the game," Holloway said. "And ironically, it happened."

That's the way a Tu Holloway answer is supposed to sound. This is the way his senior season was supposed to end.

According to a release by site officials, Holloway was the leading scorer in Greensboro this weekend with 46 points. His game winner against Notre Dame accounted for just two of his 25, and against Lehigh he hit several big shots, including a second half 3-pointer that put Xavier ahead for the last time at 55-52 after the Mountain Hawks had tied it up.

The plot had plenty of twists and turns in the final chapter of Holloway's career. The brawl would have been pushed to the back-burner after some time, and he would have been remembered for being one of the better players to ever come through Xavier. But there would have always been that cloud over top of the conversation of his legacy that involved a few bad minutes in a heated rivalry, and a wasted season.

Instead, Holloway has earned the right to finish off the script on his own terms, and he's making the most of the opportunity. Fortunately for basketball fans, there could be more twists and turns ahead.

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