Xavier took the court Saturday against Creighton with a new look in more ways than one. For the first time this season, the Musketeers rolled out with their throwback uniforms, also called the “Running Man” jerseys, paying homage to their rich basketball culture.
Not to mention, the Musketeers also derived from the norm when it came to their starting lineup. After two consecutive losses, Chris Mack made subtle changes to the lineup, opting to start the young freshman Naji Marshall and Kerem Kanter, who has recently had a string of impressive performances.
What started as a game in which both teams missed shots in the opening minutes was quickly turned around by the first media timeout of the first half. At the under 16 timeout, Xavier fed off the packed Cintas crowd to take a 10-7 advantage early.
Creighton could not convert on open layups and Xavier responded with a pair of threes by Trevon Bluiett and Kaiser Gates to increase its lead to six at the under 12-minute timeout.
By the under-8 timeout, Xavier was still in control of the game, taking a 30-22 lead exposing the Bluejays lack of defensive help in the paint.
Kaiser Gates made his presence known drilling his second three pointer of the game. On the next possession, Gates pulled down an offensive board after a miss by Sean O’Mara, he went right back up with it in double coverage and drew a foul while making the and one.
The Musketeers continued to barrage the Bluejays on offense, hitting three straight field goals to stretch their lead to 42-26 by the under-4 timeout. Meanwhile, Creighton ran into a wall on offense, missing six consecutive shots and without a field goal for just over four and a half minutes.
Right before the end of the half, Bluiett did what he does best, draining a three with a defender closing out and the shot clock winding down. That basket allowed Xavier to take a 50-34 lead going into the locker room.
Going into the first media timeout of the second half, Xavier did not score for 2:47 but they still commanded a 56-43 lead.
Off the timeout, Xavier went on a 9-0 thanks to two low posts shots by O’Mara, one of which he converted an and one.
At the under-12 timeout, Xavier was still well in control of the game, up 12 over the Bluejays. Creighton’s scoring woes resurfaced with the Jays in a 3:31 minute scoring drought.
The Bluejays needed a spark and got it from an unlikely source—freshman Mitch Ballock. He made two threes and a layup to bring the score to 76-62 with just over six minutes left.
Creighton was spread thin at the forward position once its two top forwards, Toby Hegner and Martin Krampelj both fouled out with about five minutes left to play.
Xavier carried an 8-0 run into the under 4-minute timeout and the game at that point was all but lost for a Musketeers squad that dominated Creighton all day. They increased their lead to 23.
Xavier thoroughly dismantled a Creighton team that to this point, had yet to experience a blowout loss. Xavier won big and picked up a confidence boosting victory.
Bluiett: 24 points (5-7 3pt), 5 rebounds
Gates: 16 points, 7 rebounds
Kanter: 12 points, 8 rebounds
O’Mara: 12 points
Marcus Foster: 16 points
Ronnie Harrell Jr: 13 points
Xavier flourished on the on both the offense and defensive sides of the ball today. This win was a team effort for a squad that struggled to score in its last two contests. Today, Xavier lit up the stat sheet and a scoring distribution like that can make this Xavier team, let alone any Xavier team dangerous.
Kanter and Marshall, who started in place of Gates and Tyrique Jones, took total advantage of their opportunities. Kanter continued to be a force inside the paint and has even developed a better off-hand shot. Marshall was aggressive going into the lane and basically took whatever the defense gave him.
Throughout the course of this season, both Kanter and Marshall have produced whether that be staring or coming off the bench. These are two valuable assets that Xavier has at their disposal in any situation. Kanter with the ability to punish teams inside and Marshall being able to you his length to get to the basket and even make a few from three point land.
Lastly, a shoutout to BECB’s very own Dan Gardella, who accurately predicted a stellar game from prolific scorer Trevon Bluiett. He had two puzzling showings in Xavier’s last two games, but came to play today. Bluiett was 5-7 from beyond the arc which was a major component of his 24 point outburst. When a guy like Bluiett is on like he was today, there is almost nobody that can shut him down.
Xavier picked apart the Bluejays and if anything, this game proved two main things. One, Xavier, despite the bad rap it received because of its last two games, is still a well-disciplined, well-oiled machine. Two, if Xavier can shut down another very well coached Creighton team, the Big East Conference is in for a fight to the finish. Unpredictable: that’s what I would call this conference. But, that is also what makes it so exciting to watch.