XAVIER WINS BATTLE OF THE ABSENT POINT GUARD
If you’ve ever wondered what a full 40-minute basketball game, exciting and electric from start to finish, looked like then this was it.
Two freshman for Xavier walked off the court heroes, with Quentin Goodin filling the gigantic shoes of the injured Edmond Sumner with a gigantic step in the right directions, and Tyrique Jones going a perfect 8-8 from the field, collecting 16 points, while manhandling Creighton star Justin Patton down low.
The Musketeers needed this win, not because of their current standing in the BIG EAST, but because they needed to make a surefire statement that they’re not broken without Sumner, that this is still a power to be dealt with. They made that statement in a loud, boisterous yell that could be heard echoing through the rafters.
If it wasn’t for their defensive missteps in the first half, mixed with a prolonged drought that let the Bluejays gain a 9 point advantage going into halftime, then this game would’ve been owned by the Musketeers from start to finish.
That Creighton defense in the last 15 minutes of the first half and the first 15 in the second was something to marvel at. Justin Patton played phenomenal, sending back 5 shots by Bluiett, Goodin, and Macura, one of which led to a sensational fastbreak that hit an exclamation point with a one-handed tomahawk slam by Khyri Thomas.
There were so many juicy elements to this game it’s truly hard to count. An old cliche used when describing the sport lies within, “it’s a game of runs,” yet this is paramount in this one, as the momentum swayed like a ship’s mast in a hurricane.
Xavier got things going on the opening possession by fighting for three offensive rebounds on miss, eventually allowing Tyrique Jones to nab his first board and score his first points. He returned down court and scored over Patton, setting a tone that would resonate for the remainder of the night.
The Jays kept pace for as long as they could until their defense finally clamped down and halted Xavier’s ability to score, forcing the Musketeers into ill-advised shots. After a Quentin Goodin three to push the lead to 22-17 with 13:23 left in the first, Xavier failed to score for the next 5+ minutes of the half before Kaiser Gates sank two free throws.
The score was 27-24 in favor of the Bluejays, Creighton jumping out to a 10-0 run in that span, with threes from Cole Huff, Toby Hegner, a jumper by Foster, and a couple of free throws from Patton. There was a sequence during this stretch that featured back-to-back-to-back missed three point tries by both Xavier and Creighton, giving the game that edge-of-your-seat feel early on.
After an Isaiah Zeirden three, Xavier finally ended their field goal drought with a jumper from Jones, the score 30-26. It seemed that’s all Xavier needed to get back into the game’s tempo as they traded baskets with the Jays until Patton rejected a Goodin try at the bucket.
Trevon Bluiett, battling injury, was inconsistent in the first half of basketball. He went 4-11 from the field in the first half, 0-3 from three, for a disappointing 8 points. The same guy who has been lighting it up recently was suddenly subdued by the swarming Bluejay defense, yet it’s rather difficult to keep a talent like him from making an impact.
After a Bluiett jumper in the lane, the Jays went on another run, this time gaining a 9-point edge after the under-4 media timeout. After a Cole Huff contested three, Bluiett missed wildly on a three point attempt, leading to a frenzied rebounding situation where Davion Mintz was fouled in the process. From that point on Xavier couldn’t buy a bucket after Khyri Thomas busted a three, Justin Patton proceeded to get back to back blocks, the second of which led to a coast-to-coast score for Thomas. At that point it was 39-30 and Xavier desperately needed a score, so Malcolm Bernard, though quiet in the first half, ended the run with a floater in the lane. Just like they drew it up.
With 7 seconds remaining in the first half, Khyri Thomas took the ball on an inbounds pass on the opposite end and chucked up a three with about 4 seconds remaining, the ball bounding out and Cole Huff able to tip the ball in as time expired.
It was 43-34 Bluejays.
JP Macura set the tone right out of the gates, nailing a three to bring the score to within 6. Creighton responded with a three from Huff. It’d seem like this would be the standard for the half, yet Xavier ended up going on a 6-0 after turning up the defensive intensity, forcing Patton and Tyler Clement to turn the ball over and cashing in on the other end. During this run Jones was phenomenal, making two huge shots over Patton, forcing Patton out of his comfort zone.
Clement nailed a three to stop the bleeding, but the momentum had swung completely in the Musketeer’s direction. After a Goodin three it was 51-50, the Jays hanging on for dear life, until Patton slammed home a ferocious dunk after a botched alley-oop. As Xavier took the ball up on the return possession, Khyri Thomas forced Bluiett’s hand and poked the ball away, eventually leading to a thunderous dunk.
Bluiett, upset that there wasn’t a foul called, was handed a technical foul for, I assume, stating his case without suggestive language. Zierden sank both technical free throws and the momentum had swung right back in the Jays’ favor.
After a Hanson make in the paint, which was followed by a missed free throw on the and-one, Xavier went on a 4-0 run with makes by Bernard and Macura, yet the crowd was right back into it after Toby Hegner nailed a triple after some excellent ball movement on the offensive side with 4 different Bluejays possessing the ball before he cashed in.
After a Bluiett drive to the bucket and a Kaiser Gates three, the momentum seemed to be swinging back again. At 64-59 the Musketeers were mounting a comeback.
Then, this happened:
The CenturyLink rocking as it hadn’t all day, the Jays finally stepping up and making their final heartbreaking run, was immediately placed on the back burner as JP Macura, the cold blooded killer, nailed a three to put this game back into its rightful perspective.
On the ensuing possession out of the media timeout, it appeared that Macura banged knees with a Bluejay player, sending him crumpling to the floor. Play was halted, a moment of silence was had, and Macura was carried to the locker room.
Just three minutes later he was back on the court with the score tied at 69 a piece. While nursing his injury, the Musketeers proceeded to go on a 10-2 run, featuring Jones’s 8th and final bucket, Bluiett drilling a pair of threes, and Gates finding the middle of the bucket.
In the throes of the ‘Four Minute War’ - a term Chris Mack preaches to his team - Xavier mounted a 6-0 run to gain a 75-70 advantage over Creighton, cut short by a Thomas three to put the Jays within two.
After a Creighton timeout, the Jays hopped into a 1-3-1 defense, yet this extra spacing gave Macura a gorgeous look from beyond the arc to put the Musketeers up by 5. Clement responded by slicing to the bucket, then the Jays forced Rashid Gaston to the line in a pressured situation where he made just the front end.
At 79-75 with just a minute and change remaining, Creighton had 5 fouls to give before sending Xavier to the line, so they pressured the in-bounds play - a move usually designated for these desperate times - and it actually worked. Ronnie Harrell Jr., who hadn’t played all game, was tasked with defending the in-bounds play, which offered enough pressure to get Thomas into position for a theft, a theft that turned into a wide-open three for Marcus Foster, a theft that would put this game within one single point at 79-78.
The crowd was incredible as they recognized the significance of this situation. Rarely does a team actually get the steal, let alone get a three in a four point game.
On the ensuing in-bounds, Xavier muffed it again, yet this time it went off Harrell out of bounds. Make that 2/2 for the Jays on their inbound steal attempts, though the second didn’t allow them to retain possession.
Take three - Macura inbounding - and he throws it away out of bounds. Seriously. One point game, 48 seconds left, every fan clad in blue on their feet as Creighton in-bounds successfully.
Working through the motions, Thomas eventually ends up with the ball and fires a mid-range jumper that clangs off the rim and safely into the hands of Xavier, yet they must perform another in-bounds play.
Clement forced enough pressure and got the steal, making it a solid 4/4 outing for the Jays’ defense in unruly situations. Clement fed Harrell, who got fouled and missed the front end of the one and one. Make that 1/4 for the Jays on successful offensive possessions after their in-bound theft.
Gates was fouled and sent to the line where he made one of two of his free throws, making it a 2 point game with 20.4 seconds left. On the ensuing Bluejay possession, Thomas drove the lane and looked hesitant as he went up for a lay-in, which clanged off the rim and was safely corraled by Xavier.
Gates, again, was sent to the line where he made both of his foul shots, putting the Musketeers up by 4 and presumably icing the game for good. Marcus Foster rushed down the court, fired up a three which missed, yet Patton was in the right spot as he tipped it in.
Xavier finally managed to properly in-bound the ball which resulted in Quentin Goodin getting fouled and sent to the line, where he’d miss the front end of the one-and-one, leaving Toby Hegner with the ball in his hands.
What did Toby do with it?
Chucked it about 10 feet right into the media tables.