Coming into an environment with a notably loud and loyal fanbase, facing a team that desperately needed a marquee win and who had shown themselves capable of playing at a high level, and with the target on their back of being ranked #5 in the nation, Xavier really should have been ready for an absolute battle at CenturyLink Center. Unfortunately, they were far from it.
Chalk it up to what you will, but the fact is that Xavier showed up to this game in no way ready to play. In the first 8 minutes, Creighton completely dominated every aspect of the game, scoring seemingly at will behind the easy distribution from their point guard Maurice Watson, and watching Xavier sette for, and miss, jump shots. When the dust settled, the Bluejays led 21-4, a margin one might expect to go the other way when the 5th ranked team faces an unranked opponent. Xavier came out and sleepwalked through stretches of the Marquette and St. John's wins without being punished because they were younger and less talented teams playing on the road. Tonight Creighton was primed and ready to go from the start, and Xavier paid the price for their profligacy.
Still, there were 32 minutes of basketball to play and Xavier has been known to put on a run or two of their own this season, so all was not lost. A quick 8-2 spurt saw X back within single digits as JP Macura and Larry Austin Jr once again provided and energetic jolt to get Xavier going. However, in what would become a sickening theme for the evening, Xavier would shoot themselves in the foot at nearly every opportunity to take over the game, and Creighton would be all too eager to sieze on these chances to regain control. First it was Cole Huff hitting all three free throws after being fouled on a three point attempt. Next, with the lead hovering around 7, Isaiah Zierden would knock down a three on a second chance to help Creighton close the half with the cushion still at double digits after Edmond Sumner fouled Watson with .3 seconds left on the clock. Xavier had turned in one of their worst first half displays in a long time, and certainly their worst this season, but a run out of halftime could break the game right back open and go a long way in deciding this game.
A run out of the break did, in fact, basically decide the outcome of the game. Unfortunately for X fans, it was once again Creighton answering the bell with the game in the balance. An 8-0 Maurice Watson inspired run pushed the lead out to 18 and left Xavier an extremely large mountain to climb, especially in front of a big crowd that clearly sensed a potentially season saving win was on the cards tonight.
Still, a response came as Jalen Reynolds took control to get Xavier right back in it with a 15-3 run of their own, cutting the lead to 5 with just under 7 minutes to play. From there, however, it would be a study in who could finish a game off as Creighton clamped down on the defensive end and shoot 7-10 to Xavier's 4-10 from the line, eventually pulling back away as the Musketeers saw their chances fading. Ultimately, it was a frustrating night as a Xavier fan, but one that was bound to happen as long as Xavier continued to simply not perform for long stretches of games. Tonight the Bluejays needed a win, played like it, and got it. As long as we still beat Butler, I can deal with it.