Missed free throws were a major reason Holy Cross stayed close to Higgins in most of Saturday’s Holy Cross Christmas Classic game.
But once the Hurricanes (10-5) started making them, victory was in hand.
Higgins entered the fourth quarter missing all nine of its free-throw attempts, but with the game in the balance, the Hurricanes responded, making 9 of 13 in the final quarter to ice a 41-35 win.
“We just weren’t really focused in the first half,” Higgins coach Marshall Jackson said. “We were more focused when it was time to win the game. We didn’t play defense very well tonight, but we did enough to win.”
Aggressiveness in the second half also played a part, Hurricanes forward Melvin Frazier said.
“Coach told us at halftime that we weren’t getting to the free-throw line enough and we needed to be more aggressive,” Frazier said. “We came out more aggressive and got to the free-throw line and that’s what got us the win.”
Frazier, ESPN’s second-best prospect from Louisiana in the class of 2015, led the way for the Hurricanes with 13 points, nine rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Davion Sullivan contributed nine points, three rebounds and three steals for Higgins.
“This is a new team, and we’re still trying to figure our chemistry out,” Frazier said. “So my job is to just help everybody out and get everybody into the game.”
Holy Cross (7-7) picked up its defensive intensity coming out of halftime, which included holding Higgins to four third-quarter points, and Xavian McKay’s 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter completed the Tigers’ 12-4 run that tied the game at 24.
The Hurricanes responded with a 7-2 run of their own to extend their lead to 31-26 and never looked back after.
“Our intention the entire year has been to play in the paint,” Jackson said. “We haven’t shot the ball very well in certain games, so we try to win inside first and then make it easier for ourselves on the outside.”
Higgins dominated the paint in the first half, outrebounding Holy Cross 14-6 and racking up three blocked shots, but the Hurricanes were only able to take a 20-12 lead into halftime, partially because of their issues at the free-throw line.
Frazier scored the first six points of the game for the Hurricanes and finished the quarter with eight points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block as the Hurricanes raced out to a 14-5 lead. His only miss of the quarter was on an attempted dunk, and he made up for it later with an alley-oop off the backboard from guard Tevyn Wade.
“Coach said that I just have to go from the start and, thankfully, we were able to finish it off,” Frazier said. “We’ve got a lot of size, so we knew it would be a mismatch, so we just had to play with more strength and more passion then them.”
Higgins limited McKay, who was coming off a 25-point performance in Holy Cross’ opening-round win against Belle Chasse, to two first-half points. He finished with 13 points on 5-of-11 from the field.
Higgins will face Riverside in the semifinals of the tournament at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.