What happened: Xavier 75 - Creighton 69
Xavier had a lot of big performances in this game, but the most important player on the court was Grant Gibbs. When he was on the floor, the Xavier coaching staff tasked Matt Stainbrook with guarding him. While it's superficially ridiculous to have a 6'10" center on a 6'5" guard, this enabled Xavier to guard Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott with a rotating cast of more athletic forwards while Stainbrook hung well off of Gibbs, who had only attempted 31 three-point field goals coming into the game. The adjustment barely slowed down McDermott, who went for 27/10/2 on 9-18/5-12/4-4 shooting, but Wragge was confounded by a more mobile defender and went for 6/5/0 on 2-9/2-8/0-0 shooting. What an adjustment by Coach Mack and his staff, and it made all the difference for Xavier.
The man for the moment was Justin Martin, who stepped up and played like a man of his talents can from time to time. He ended up with a brilliant game line of 19/16/2 with a steal and a block on 6-11/3-7/4-4 shooting. Martin had a career high in rebounds by halftime and looked like a man who had come to play tonight. He also switched to Doug McDermott for a long stretch of the second half and was part of holding him scoreless from the 14:38 mark until there was 5:27 left in the game. This is the kind of game we were hoping to see out of JMart when he signed, and he has become increasingly vital to this team as the year has worn on.
Of course, Semaj was a key cog in the Xavier machine as well. He went for 21/1/3 with 4 steals on 8-18/2-4/3-4 shooting, though his line was marred by 3 turnovers. Just as importantly, his 4 steals were part of his setting the tone for the Xavier defense, which was flying around the court and giving Creighton fits as they tried to set their offense. Despite the lung-busting effort he put forth, Semaj played all 40 minutes. The Muskies forced 15 turnovers and scored 17 points off of them. Creighton pulled down 7 offensive boards in the last 1:31 while Xavier was mostly concerned with not fouling, but before that point Xavier had won the extra possession (OReb + forced TO) war to the tune of 22-17, and those extra looks at the bucket were ultimately a big factor in the result.
Dee Davis was the third-leading scorer for Xavier, and he had some timely plays on both sides of the ball throughout the contest. His final line was 15/0/5 with 2 steals on 5-9/4-5/1-2 shooting, though he did have 3 turnovers. All three TO came early, and Dee settled in as the game went on. With Creighton within 3 with 5 minutes left, Dee scored, made a steal, and then hit a three on Xavier's next possession. He drew a charge on Austin Chatman with the score 68-60 and 2:05 left on the clock, and then sealed the deal with a steal with 10 seconds remaining. This was Dee's kind of game, and he rose to the occasion with a vital performance for Xavier.
Xavier's three big men (Jalen, Stainbrook, and Philmore) didn't get the gaudy numbers, but they helped the team hold down a rebounding advantage at both ends throughout the game. Stainbrook finished with 5/3/4 with a steal and a block, but his passing out of double teams was keying the ball rotation that gave Xavier enough clean looks to shoot 9-16 from deep. Isaiah Philmore went for 8/2/1 with 2 steals on 3-4/0-0/2-2 shooting. He made McDermott work for his buckets in the first half and hit a couple of mid-range jumpers that kept the defense from sagging off of him. Jalen Reynolds had 6/9/0 with a block. He only shot 3-8, but 5 of his boards came on the offensive end and his athleticism was too much for Creighton to handle inside.
Odds and ends:
-Xavier had 15 assists on 27 made baskets.
-10 of Creighton's 15 turnovers came off of Xavier steals, which is a huge number, especially for a defense like Xavier's.
-The Muskies were 12-17 from the line, depriving Xavier fans of a chance to get buy-one, get-one-free frozen yogurt.
-Xavier held the best offense in the nation to 69 points in 68 possessions of basketball.
-Justin Martin had 15 defensive boards. All of his teammates put together had 10.
-Finally, Brad is beside himself with glee because Creighton's 34 3PA eclipsed the over/under of 30 that he set in the Q&As. Good on you, little buddy.
-"Not good when Dee's first pass is to them."
-"Phil on Doug; not good."
-"We are giving up too many threes... again."
-"Dee was way out on that three. He is becoming Stanley Burrell!"
-"Reynolds is active again."
-"Stop that big goober from shooting the three!"
-"Semaj has great body control; [reminds me of] CJ."
-"We did not shoot an FT in that half?"
-"Good JMart is playing!"
-"JMart is outside of his mind!! Always loved that kid."
-"Semaj is really hustling tonight."
-"Reynolds can get up."
-"Red hits a three again!"
-"We cannot afford a drought right now; up ten with eight to go."
-"Dee ends the drought. Nice steal, too."
-"Dee takes a charge!"
-"Yes!! JMart was a man, Davis shot the lights out, Semaj was a leader! Huge win!"
-"Bring on Villanova."
That's it from me. What a win that was for Xavier. Now a quick turnaround to head to Seton Hall on Monday. If this team can keep that level of effort going, the sky is the limit. We'll be back tomorrow with the Sunday Conversation and a look at JP Macura; stay well, friends.