For the first time all season, Xavier has lost on American soil. The Creighton Bluejays's shooting was the difference in the game, as they shot a blistering 30-55/14-29/21-30 on the night, led by All-American Doug McDermott's 35 points on 13-24/4-11/5-6. Xavier's defense wasn't as excellent as one might have hoped, but Creighton hit several shots that no reasonable defender would have bothered contesting. When a team is successful against you while taking more than half their shots from beyond the arc - some from well beyond the arc - sometimes all you can do is tip your hat and move on. Coach Mack is a defensive-minded coach by nature, so you know this one will stick in his craw; it will be interesting to see what he has in store when the Bluejays visit Cintas on March 1st.
More than any other player, Matt Stainbrook represents the give and take of this game for X. On the offensive end, he was magnificent, going for 15/11/4 on 7-11/0-1/1-2 shooting and keying the Xavier offense from the post when given the chance. Creighton had no answer for him one-on-one, and he was finding the right guys passing out of the double team. On the other end, the Bluejays's five-out offense at times left him without anyone to guard. A man of his stature is not often called upon to defend 21 feet away from the rim, and Creighton was able to exploit matchups against the Xavier center to get looks from deep or drives to the bucket when he was isolated. This is, of course, the conundrum Creighton presents for every opponent and why they are now 14-2 on the year.
Semaj Christon played like an All-American in his own right. After having only 7 points in the first half, he shot 7-9/1-2/5-7 on his way to putting up 20 second-half points as Xavier furiously tried to find a way back into the game late. He ended the game with 27/4/5 on 10-17/2-3/5-7 shooting with a steal and 4 TO. It's probably worth noting that Semaj is 5-6 from behind the arc in his last two games. He doesn't look for that shot often, but he can hit it if given enough of a look, and that threat is giving him an extra edge against already overmatched defenders. If he can consistently hit threes, he's borderline unguardable.
Speaking of which, your friend and mine Darwin Davis, Jr. put up one of his best games as a Musketeer. He had 14/0/8 and a steal on 4-8/4-6/2-3 shooting and was a steady hand for 35 minutes in a game where turnovers and missed free throws plagued the team. Over the last three games, Dee has stepped up to average 13/1/5 on 10-22/7-12/12-14 shooting while being tasked with chasing the opponent's top scoring guard through a maze of off-ball screens. Christon gets more fanfare (for obvious reasons), but those who were ready to cede the backcourt to one of Xavier's talented freshman guards have since quieted their ignoble murmurings.
Justin Martin continued his trend of putting up big numbers in Big East games, dropping 21/8/1 with 2 steals and 1 turnover on 7-14/5-10/2-2 shooting. He began the game with three three-point baskets in Xavier's first four trips down the floor before having his hot hand momentarily cooled by foul trouble. Justin ended up playing only 8 minutes in the first half, and that loss loomed large as Xavier suffered through a scoring drought that let Creighton claw back into the lead. The obvious "what might have been" from this game is that Martin was scoring almost at will in the first half, and 7-8 more minutes of him might have changed things. Martin is averaging 16/7.3/0.5 on 21-41/9-19/13-15 shooting during Big East play. I know it's almost foolish to suggest, but has Xavier's talented wing finally turned the corner?
And that was pretty much it. Isaiah Philmore only had 19 minutes due to foul trouble, and Xavier's bench struggled to replace his production, putting up 7/5/2 on 2-11/1-6/1-5 shooting. Xavier had 13 turnovers for a TO rate of 16.7%, which is below their season average, but they seemed to come at key times. Meanwhile, every time X would cut the game to within touching distance, Creighton would respond to run it back out to double-digits. Once Creighton established a two-possession lead with 18:24 left in the game, Xavier was never back within a single score until Myles Davis cut it to three with 29 seconds left. In other words, the Bluejays did exactly what you would expect a highly-regarded power-conference team to do when defending their raucous home court. The 13-22 Xavier posted from the free throw line smarts, but ultimately you have to respect the effort the Muskies put forth to fight back and admire the talent and execution of the opponent. Today, when you boil everything else away, the Bluejays were just the better team. On March 1st, Xavier will welcome the opportunity to even the score.
Odds and ends:
-Seriously, that 13-22 from a team that was shooting almost 80% from the line during conference play stings.
-Ethan Wragge did what he does, shooting 5-10 from three and 0-0 from anywhere else.
-Xavier's 25.6% OReb% as a team despite being much larger than Creighton on the inside is a little bit disappointing. X rebounded 25 of Creighton's 30 misses as the Bluejays abandoned the offensive glass to slow down the fast break.
-Landen Amos had the game's only blocked shot.
-There were 110 points scored in the second half alone. Take that for what it's worth.
-"Dee again. They are really doubling Stain."
-"McDermott is quick for someone that big."
-"Semaj with a sircus shot and it goes in."
-"The turnover bug is showing up, the crowd is getting into it; I've got a bad feeling."
-"JMart just got two fouls in ten seconds."
-"Semaj is forcing things a little today. Needs to relax a little."
-"18-5 run; we've got to stop the bleeding."
-"These refs are letting them play a lot more physically than some of our games."
-"At least Myles can make free... oh wait, no he can't."
-"Dee rainbows in another! Always loved that kid."
-"Down four at the half, but we look shaky."
-"JMart with a fadeaway. Unreal."
-"They may want to cover Wragge!!"
-"We are done. Write it down; 16:00 to go and it's over."
-"This could get ugly; we look lost at both ends. Of course, they are shooting the lights out."
-"Nice dime to Martin from Stain."
-"We are just a step slow on both ends."
-"JMart just not big enough to stay with McD."
-"Cheap call on Phil. McD just fell down."
-"Every time we get a little confused on our defensive rotations, McD buries one. He's as good as I think I was!"
-"Myles Davis's confidence is gone."
-"JMart looking smooth."
-"Just couldn't make a sustained run. At least they kept battling."
-"Couldn't go unbeaten in conference play. Go home and regroup and play the next game."
-"They may have won, but they have to live in Omaha!"
That's it from me. Brad will be back tomorrow with his narrative recap. Xavier will be back in business Wednesday night at 7pm when they host Georgetown.