With wins over Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Marquette, Creighton had a chance to pick up another quality win against Xavier on Saturday. While 2-2 in conference play certainly seems better than 1-3, two of those losses would have been on the road and the other would’ve been to Villanova.
Xavier needed this. Like Creighton, the Musketeers entered the game at 1-2 in Big East play. They are now 1-3, with two of those losses at home in games in which the Musketeers were favored, to go with very little of substance in the non-conference. Xavier is staring at missing the tournament in consecutive years for the first time this millennium and it doesn’t seem that Travis Steele has the pieces to fix it.
The first half was mostly back-and-forth, but a late Creighton flurry helped the Jays enter the half with a 32-27 advantage. The Bluejays led the entire second half, with their largest lead of 14 coming while Xavier was still inexplicably fouling in the final seconds.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott entered the game with a strategy to shut down the Musketeers which Travis Steele had no answer. Creighton basically doubled/hard hedged guard Paul Scruggs (Xavier’s only efficient scorer) off of screens and then doubled forward Naji Marshall on drives. The rest of the Jays packed the paint and dared the Musketeers to shoot generally wide open looks. Xavier obliged and wound up going 5-26 (19.2%) from deep with senior guards Bryce Moore and Quentin Goodin combining to go 0-11. Despite Xavier’s size advantage, Creighton won the battle of the boards 41-37.
Offensively, the Musketeers’ weakness was the Bluejays’ strength. Creighton went 9-23 (39.1%) from deep, led by forward Mitch Ballock. Guard Ty-Shon Alexander scored 18, guard Marcus Zegarowski added 11, and forward Christian Bishop scored 10. Guard Denzel Mahoney came off the bench to score 13. Ballock led the team with eight rebounds while Zegarowski and Bishop each dished out five assists.
Marshall was one of Xavier’s few bright spots, recording 21 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Scruggs was able to collect 19 points and nine boards while forward Tyrique Jones added 12 points. Xavier was much better handling the ball than it had been lately with only eight turnovers, but those possessions just wound up being bricks anyway.
Creighton returns to the court Wednesday night at Georgetown seeking to work their way to a winning record in Big East play. That game tips at 7 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on CBSSN.
Xavier will look to stop the bleeding Wednesday at Marquette as Travis Steele will get something of a coaching respite facing Wojo. That game will tip at 8 p.m. EST and will be televised on FSN.