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Kenny Frease saves the day for Xavier in win over Lehigh

Kenny Frease, Justin Maneri

Xavier’s Kenny Frease pulls down a rebound over Lehigh’s Justin Maneri (31) during the second half of an NCAA tournament third-round college basketball game in Greensboro, N.C., Sunday, March 18, 2012. Xavier won 70-58. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)


Xavier is heading to the Sweet 16.

Let me say that again: Xavier is heading to the Sweet 16.

Despite the fallout from the brawl with Cincinnati and the struggles that the Musketeers dealt with down the stretch of the season, Chris Mack’s team is heading to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Xavier overcame a hot start from the Mountain Hawks, using a 13-2 run at the end of the first half to trim a 15 point lead to four. The Muskies extended that run to 20-2 in the second half, pulling away late in the second half to win 70-58.

The hero for Xavier wasn’t Tu Holloway or Mark Lyons. It was the enigmatic Kenny Frease, who entered Xavier as a top 100 recruit expected to dominate the paint in the Atlantic 10 for years. Frease has a good career with the Musketeers, but the seven-footer never lived up to those expectations. The only thing more memorable than his inconsistency is the fact that he was the guy that got dropped by Yancy Gates.

On Sunday night, Frease played what was undoubtedly the best game of his career. With both Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons both struggling -- they combined to go 8-29 from the floor -- Frease went for 25 points and 13 boards, making 11 of the 13 shots he took and just generally dominating the paint.

Holloway and Lyons are not always going to shoot this poorly. Even with his struggles, Holloway still managed to his three huge 3-pointers during Xavier’s game-changing run. He’ll rise to the occasion even on an off-night.

But if Frease can provide an interior presence, Xavier becomes that much more of a balanced team. That has been an issue all season long; for the size and athleticism they have, consistent production simply hasn’t been there.

With Baylor’s massive front-line on tap next weekend in Atlanta, Frease playing well will be key if Xavier wants a shot at the Elite 8.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.