With a .500 record after 10 games of Big East play, Xavier seemed primed for a run, given that half of their run-in in conference play was against conference bottom dwellers St. John's and Creighton, two teams who have struggled thus far. All that seems like a wild pipe dream now, after Xavier convoluted to get beaten by a Creighton team who came into the game 1-9 and on the heels of a spanking at the hands of Georgetown.
Both teams staggered out of the gate in this one, with Xavier finally cracking double digits over 8 minutes in when Myles Davis made it 11-9 with a driving basket. Two trends would emerge in the next minute and a half that would haunt Xavier for the rest of the half. First, Devin Brooks took the inbound pass and drove unopposed to the hoop to retie the scores. Two trips later, Ricky Kreklow buried a three from the left corner, opening an 14-11 advantage for the Bluejays. For the next seven minutes, all of Creighton's field goals would come off Brooks driving or Kreklow shooting three pointers from the left corner, and they would lead by as many as 10. Over that span Jalen Reynolds would show that Creighton was struggling to guard him by scoring 7 points, as Xavier slowly sputtered to life on offense.
The player who would snap the dependence on Brooks and Kreklow was Geoffrey Groselle, who would also factor largely in the outcome, scoring his first points on a layup with 3:11 on the clock. While Xavier would continue to chip away at the lead through Remy Abell's three pointer snapping a massive slump for the Muskies, Creighton's ability to get second looks would carry them into the half up 32-29. The Bluejays were beneficiaries of 6 rebounds off their 18 misses in the first half, while Xavier was only able to grab 2 of their own 16 misses. Adding to the unease Xavier fans would have felt at half time was the fact that yet another opponent was having a field day behind the arc, with Kreklow's 4-5 fueling a 5-8 performance by Creighton.
In the past month, Xavier has trailed almost every game at the half, before showing marked improvement in the second half and, in home games, coming back and winning. While on some days adjustments have been obviously made, it was hard to see what the Musketeers tried to do differently after the break today. Xavier simply came out looking refocused and took the game to Creighton the way most thought they would from the start. A pair of Remy Abell threes early on helped Xavier erase the deficit, and by the first media timeout the lead was back in Xavier's hands. James Farr's layup with 13:31 to go made it 7 points and prompted Greg McDermott to call timeout as Cintas roared to life and another one seemingly got away from the Bluejays.
Over the next three and a half minutes, everything that has been bad about Xavier Basketball this season reared its ugly head. It started with a pair of free throws from Groselle, followed by Creighton feeding him in the post to take advantage of a mismatched guard. Milliken then tied it with a lay in of his own, answered by Stainbrook, before Brooks got to the lane and hit a floater to re-tie it. His pair of free throws gave Creighton the lead and then Avery Dingman hit a three pointer to make it a 14-2 run for Creighton and a 5 point lead with 10 minutes left. Out of the timeout, Creighton had turned the game on its head and retaken control through exploiting Xavier's recurring demons.
After a minute and a half of no one scoring, Remy Abell hit his fourth three pointer of the game as Xavier tired to regain control and save the game. 5 straight points from Myles Davis gave Xavier another lead, but it was short lived as Creighton retied the game with 6 minutes to play before Stainbrook gave Xavier a 2 point margin. Up 2 with 5:42 to play, Xavier would score 2 points over the next 3 minutes, failing to take advantage of Crieghton's stumble during crunch time. Only a Jalen Reynolds jumper would keep Xavier moving as a golden opportunity to salt the game away slipped by.
By the 1:44 mark, Xavier was showing life and had pushed the lead out to 3 with Stainbrook and Reynolds both in on the act late in the game. However, a crucial miss with a minute left and Xavier up one would lead to Groselle once again drawing a guard to the paint and scoring to give Creighton the lead. With 35 seconds left, Dee Davis split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 65 and both teams would spend the final bit of game time trying to hand it away. First, Brooks got to the lane only to be emphatically rejected by Reynolds with 1.8 left. A turnover under the basket would give Xavier the basketball with 1.3 left, but JP Macura's length of the court pass found nothing but the fans at the other end of the court and Creighton once again had a chance to score. All they could manage was a off balance heave by Brooks and the game went to overtime, where Xavier was already 0-2 this year.
Xavier never led in the extra period, as James Milliken hit three pointers on both of Creighton's first two possessions. This is not to say, however, that Creighton put the game away there, as Xavier clawed back into it and had the ball down 1 with under a minute to play. However, as had been the pattern all night, the opportunity to win the game was there, but Xavier failed to take it. All the momentum of a good road win followed by an at least decent road performance was gone. The aura of invincibility at Cintas was gone. The progress in the polls and rankings was gone. What is left is now a team with 8 games to play itself back into the tournament.
What lineup will see the most time? Xavier went with a variety of different looks tonight in hopes of finding a mix that would work on offense and keep Creighton off the boards. Bluiett, Abell, and the Davises all got over 15 minutes in the second half, while Reynolds got 13, Stainbrook 10, and Farr 5. This showed as Groselle went 4-4 for 9 points in the second half.
Will some threes fall? As it turned out, not enough. Xavier shot 6-19 from three tonight, with players other than Remy Abell shooting a putrid 2-14. Xavier was better from three today, but still not good.
Can Xavier get a convincing win? Not tonight, they couldn't.