Tu Holloway is making the clich "saving best for last" appear absurd.
A few days after the All-American senior guard rallied Xavier to an overtime win over Vanderbilt, Holloway overcame another sluggish first half to lead the Musketeers to a thrilling 66-63 come-from-behind win over Purdue.
Holloway drained a trio of 3-point shots and two free throws during the final minutes of a furious rally that saw 11th ranked Xavier overcome a 19-point deficit. Holloway finished with a game-high 21 points, including a crucial 13 in the final 5:10.
Until late in the second half of Xavier's sixth victory of the season, Holloway had played a relatively quiet game. Yet, as the final moments encroached, Holloway again emerged as a big-time talent.
"When there's one minute left in the game, I have to take the shot," Holloway said. "So that's what I'm going to do."
Holloway's final dagger -- a gorgeous fall away jumper from the top of the key that gave Xavier a 64-61 lead -- was a striking departure from the Senior guard's first half struggles.
At times during the first half, Holloway appeared tentative in the face of Purdue's stingy, trapping defense. Holloway managed only four points and took just three total shots. Overall, Xavier struggled to create any offense and couldn't hold on the ball -- committing 18 turnovers.
Facing a 33-22 halftime deficit, Xavier coach Chris Mack challenged his starting backcourt of Holloway and Junior Mark Lyons.
"Coach Mack laughed at us," Holloway said. "(He said) Best backcourt in the nation -- yeah, right?"
The tactic worked -- along with Xavier establishing a more comfortable offensive rhythm. In the second half, Xavier exhibited a more focused and careful approach -- one that put the ball in the hands of their playmakers.
"We were as bad as bad could be in the first half," Mack said. "In the second half, we kept our turnovers below five. Because of that, we gave ourselves a chance at the offensive end to shoot the ball and try to score."
Xavier's second-half resurgence was also enhanced by more effective screen play. In the first half, Purdue congested Xavier's attempts to run pick and rolls. In particular, Xavier's Senior center Kenny Frease was continually double-teamed -- both at the top of the key and underneath the basket.
As a result, Xavier pressed on both ends of the court -- giving up the ball on a variety of botched entry passes and allowing several easy scores.
According to Mack, much of Xavier's early struggles were the result of a simple lack of patience.
"You can't be consistent trying to score within the first five seconds," Mack said. "It's hard to score when they had five eyes staring at you after the first ball screen."
However, Xavier's renewed focus in the second half merely served as a prelude to Holloway's late minute magic.
"In the last four minutes of the game with Tu Holloway, it has nothing to do with our coaching staff," Mack said. "The plays he made -- amazing."
According to Holloway, such a feat is nothing new.
"You've seen me do that for two years," Holloway said -- referring to his sluggish starts and frenetic finishes.
Yet, it never seems to get old.