Monday, March 19, 2012 | 12:32 p.m.
• Betting line via Wynn Las Vegas: Xavier -4, covers.
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Lehigh players received a standing ovation from the crowd at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday when they sat down to watch a portion of North Carolina's game against Creighton before the Mountain Hawks faced Xavier in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Tar Heels fans will cheer any team that can eliminate despised Duke from the NCAA tournament, and Lehigh was suddenly family after shocking the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils on Friday.
That gave No. 15 Lehigh a bit of a home-court advantage against No. 10 Xavier, at least until the crowd of Tar Heels fans thinned. And for a while, it seemed as if the Mountain Hawks would write a sequel to that upset story.
Until Xavier became the story instead. The Musketeers rallied for a 70-58 victory against Lehigh to advance to the South Region semifinals against No. 3 Baylor on Friday in Atlanta. Kenny Frease, a 7-foot, 275-pound inside force that Lehigh could not counter, had 25 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Musketeers. Tu Holloway added 21 points
This is the fourth trip to the regional semifinals in five years for Xavier, but the Musketeers are one of the lowest seeds to advance this year.
"It's an amazing accomplishment, but it's not something that we want to be final," said Xavier coach Chris Mack, who added, "Whether you have your ups and downs during the year, the middle of the year, you want to be playing as well as you possibly can play down the stretch."
Xavier (23-12) trailed by 15 points in the first half, but Frease was critical to the turnaround. He had 12 points in the first half and seven more in a 14-3 run to start the second half that turned a four-point halftime deficit into a 47-40 lead.
But Lehigh (27-8) made a comeback of its own. The Mountain Hawks regained the lead, 52-50, on C.J. McCollum's basket with just over eight minutes remaining. But they could not hold back Xavier. The Musketeers tied it, then went ahead on Holloway's 3-pointer with just under seven minutes remaining for a 55-52 lead. Frease followed with a rebound and a lay-in for a 57-52 advantage with 4:50 to go.
After a Frease free throw at 4:02 made it 58-52, Andre Walker drove for a layup and a 60-52 lead. The Mountain Hawks cut their deficit to four, 62-58, with 49.5 seconds to go, but could not get closer.
''We're coming together at the right time," Frease said. "It feels really good to get back to the Sweet 16."
Lehigh led by as many as 15 points in the first half against Xavier and was ahead, 33-18, with just under four minutes to go in the first half after Mackey McKnight's layup.
But that was when the Musketeers made their stand, and outscored Lehigh the rest of the way, 15-4, to make it 37-33 at halftime.
Frease led Xavier with 12 points in the first half on 6-of-6 shooting, and Holloway, held scoreless for much first half, buried two late three-pointers including one just before the buzzer.
McKnight had 14 for Lehigh, but McCollum, who had scored 30 against Duke, was held to four first-half points on 2-of-6 from the field. He finished with 14 and shot five of 22.
''There's been a lot of emotional highs and lows," McCollum said. "That's a part of life. We're not satisfied. We're not going to hold our heads down because we fought as hard as we could, left everything we had on the court. But at the same time we're a little disappointed with the outcome."