The incongruous things about college basketball is that not all games are created equal. In college football, the NFL, MLB, or the NBA, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. Your record is, ultimately, all that matters. College basketball isn't like that. Some wins can be worth their weight in gold come March, and some losses can be season torpedoing events. Conversely, there are losses that are barely losses at all.
Creighton is, we're all now aware, an excellent basketball team. No one in the nation plays offense any better, and only 48 teams play defense any better. At eighth overall in the KenPom, only teams like Wisconsin, Arizona, Iowa, and Syracuse occupy the rarefied air above them. Kansas, Louisville, and Duke all fall behind them. Not just a mid-major making the jump, the Bluejays are a legitimate national title contender.
I say all of that because the Xavier Musketeers took them right to the wire yesterday before coming up just short. Xavier jumped to a 12-0 lead when Justin Martin (21/8/1) buried three pointers on three of Xavier's first five possessions. That double digit lead lasted until the 12:56 mark when a three pointer from Jahennes Manigat trimmed it to 21-13. Three minutes later a 15-1 run had pushed Creighton ahead 23-22. Nine of those 15 points for the Bluejays came from behind the arc, where the team went 7-15 for the half.
The Musketeers didn't fold under the barrage though, responding with a 7-12 mark of their own from deep in the first half. Semaj Christon (27/4/5) gave Xavier the lead back a 25-23 with his three, and the teams traded punches until Xavier tied the game back at 33 on a Dee Davis (14/0/8) three with 2:50 to play in the first half. Creighton took a 39-35 into the half in a game that featured Xavier shooting 43% from the floor and the Bluejays shooting 52%. That level of offense, though, was eclipsed by what was to come.
After the game, Xavier's defense was ranked 61st and Creighton's still ranked 49th. Given the absolute explosion of offense that occurred in the second half of this game, those numbers seem absurdly high. They aren't because both of these teams can lock games down. Yesterday, though, they didn't. Martin and Christon quickly pulled Xavier back within two as the half started, then the Jays rode three straight bombs from Ethan Wragge out to an 11 point lead. Wragge's last three was an off the dribble leaner from about 30 feet away. Those are notoriously difficult to defend.
Xavier didn't fold though, wrestling the lead back down to seven with 13:53 to play. With the CenturyLink Center absolutely rocking, the Musketeers took a massive shot but came back off the mat. Unfortunately, it took less than a minute for the lead to be back out to 12 as Austin Chatman drained a three. Once again, Xavier didn't flinch and Matt Stainbrook (15/11/4) and the ever present Martin cut the lead back to eight again. The teams counterpunched a bit as Xavier refused to pack up shop like Marquette, Nebraska, and Cal have in Omaha.
When Manigat buried a three with 8:45 to play, the Bluejays led by 14 and looked to have finally started to put a bow on things. The Musketeers once again responded, this time with a 8-0 run of their own keyed by Matt Stainbrook getting the ball in the paint. 58 seconds later, Doug McDermott pushed the lead back into double digits. McDermott got some help from the officials all game, but he displayed a game full of imaginative and unorthodox ways to score. If Isaiah Philmore (5/5/1) is a purveyor of the old man's game, McDermott has mastered both it, and a large part of the more athletic way of playing.
With 1:45 to play, Xavier trailed by 11 and looked on their way to a respectable, if somewhat, lopsided loss in Omaha. Once again though, they refused to stop fighting. Dee Davis hit a three, Christon drive and scored, and Justin Martin hit a three and with 33 seconds to play, Xavier was back within six. Austin Chatman then took the opportunity to push Dee in an attempt to get free, and Myles Davis (4/1/0) first three since Alabama on the 21st of December made it a three point game. Unfortunately, Creighton is not the kind of team to give points away at the line. Xavier fouled frenetically, but the Jays held the game by converting six of six free throw attempts at the end.
So, it was a loss, but it wasn't a damaging one. Xavier fell only five spots in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, made it into the top 25 on Seth Davis' ballot, moved to 28th in the BPI, and, more importantly, took the best shots that one of the best teams in the nation has to offer and didn't back down. The Musketeers may have lost a game on Sunday, but they left Nebraska with a host of reasons to feel like this will be a successful season.
- Who guards McDermott? It's tempting to look at Doug's line of 35 points on 13-24 from the floor and say that no one did, but that wasn't the case. Philmore drew McDermott most of the time, Justin Martin had a go, and even Matt Stainbrook tried his hand. Ultimately, McDermott did what he always does, score a lot. No team is going to match up very well with him, and Xavier was no exception.
- Can Creighton slow down Semaj? On the other side of the ball, Xavier has a pretty good player as well. Christon went for 27 on 10-17 from the floor and played 39 minutes of the game. He couldn't quite pull Xavier all the way over the hump, but it wasn't for lack of trying. McDermott was the best player on the floor, but Christon demonstrated quite clearly that he's not far behind.
- How much of a difference will Grant Gibbs absence make? The local AARP member spent the game watching with a thigh to ankle brace protecting his dislocated kneecap. Avery Dingman started in his place and went for 12/5/4. Gibbs moves the ball well, but Xavier's attempts to rattle Creighton with a press in his absence were stifled by the Bluejays willingness to shoot three from 32 feet away and on the move. Sometimes, you just tip your cap.
Tweet of the game:
The Hero demonstrates that sometimes a little research can keep the streak alive.