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Xavier’s late defensive stand holds off Creighton to advance to the Big East semifinals

Back and forth they went over the 40 minutes before last second heroics sent Xavier to the semifinals to face Villanova.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Xavier vs Creighton Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier and Creighton both entered Madison Square Garden on Thursday with NCAA Tournament dreams floating in their heads. Only one would likely be able to keep that dream alive heading into Friday.

The Musketeers took down the Jays 63-61 behind a late offensive putback by Zach Hankins off of back-to-back Xavier misses with 27.8 seconds to go.

Creighton had a chance to win it at the end with one final shot, but Ty-Shon Alexander’s three pointer was blocked by Kyle Castlin to seal up a memorable win at Madison Square Garden for the Musketeers.

“Was that your first block ever?” Xavier Coach Travis Steele said directly to Castlin on the podium after the win. “First of the season?”

“No.” Castlin said laughing.

It was Castlin’s third block of the season, but it did the charm for Xavier.

The Musketeers were led by Hankins who had 22 points in the win after scoring a combine 16 points in the first two meetings with the Jays this season.

Naji Marshall had 11 points and Castlin added in 10 along with that game saving block.

“That was a heck of game,” Steele said. “Really proud of our group and excited to play a really good Villanova team in the semifinals.”

This was a game of runs with both teams having big leads in the game that they couldn’t protect. Creighton led by as many as nine points in the first half and Xavier led by as many as 12 points in the second half.

The Jays came back behind 21 points from Alexander who tied the game with a two-point jumper with 50.6 seconds to go. Just seconds later, Hankins made what turned out to be the game-winning shot.

Xavier is now 6-0 in Big East Quarterfinal games and have made the semifinals in every year they have been in the Big East Tournament. In the semifinals, the Musketeers are 1-4 and have Villanova up next.

For Steele and Xavier, to be here is very impressive to say the least. They were 3-8 and in last place in the conference earlier this season. They have now won seven of their last eight and might be a win away from the NCAA Tournament.

“The losing streak was a great learning experience,” Castlin said. “We know how good we can be. We are just looking forward to the Villanova game tomorrow and to keep playing the way we have on this run that we’ve been on.”

For the Jays, it is the second straight heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinals at roughly 4:30 p.m. at MSG on a Thursday in March. After the Friars got them last season, the Musketeers stopped them this time. Both times it came down to tough shots on the last offensive play of the game.

“Obviously, we didn’t execute the last play very well,” Creighton Coach Greg McDermott said. “I didn’t call a timeout there. In hindsight I would do it differently. Hopefully there is some basketball left for us.”

McDermott was asked to pitch his team to the committee for an NCAA Tournament spot. Here is part of what he said.

“We played a top 10 schedule in the country,” McDermott said. “I don’t know if anybody knows what this new NET means. I don’t know if anybody knows exactly what is going to happen.”

McDermott also referenced how during 10 games this season, the Jays dealt with significant injuries and he hopes the committee will take that into consideration. However, if they make the NIT they will do all they can to win it.

The Jays will now wait until Selection Sunday to find out their fate.

For Xavier, it’s a dinner date for two with Villanova in the greatest city in the world for a chance to play in a Big East Championship game. The Garden will be rocking for that one.