I’ll give this to Xavier today; they could have easily quit on this game. Creighton was shooting the lights out in front of 17,000 fans, the Muskies were struggling to find a rhythm, and it seemed like things were slipping away. X never quit though.
Down as many as 9 in the second half, Xavier clung to the fringes of the game before they clawed back in. Down 66-59 with 8:15 left, the Muskies embarked on an arduous six-minute, 19-7 run capped by 9 points in three possessions to put the Muskies up 78-73 with 2 and change left. A couple of possessions each way later and Xavier had the ball with 54 seconds left and a 79-75 lead. Perfunctory, right?
A couple of things factored into a wild finish. First, Creighton had been called for one foul all half. Second, Xavier couldn’t get the ball inbounded. Every time Creighton fouled, Xavier had to run the gauntlet again to get the ball into play. Tre, JP, and Q were all credited with turnovers in the final minute, but Creighton couldn’t quite execute enough to make it count. Kaiser Gates played mean defense, ripped down a couple of huge boards, and ultimately salted away a huge road win at the line.
The defense is a real problem
Remember when Xavier would zip teams up? That seems like a long time ago, mostly because of how porous the defense has been of late. Creighton got whatever shots they wanted from behind the arc and flirted with the 50% mark from deep all day. Every time Xavier would get a little bit of momentum, it seemed like the Bluejays would get a shootaround look from deep and wake the crowd back up. You can win games or you can give up a couple dozen fairly open threes, but you can’t often do both.
It’s the little things
It’s also the big things, like not having Ed or Myles, LAJ or Makinde, or even Eddie Ekiyor. But with that much margin for error chipped away, Xavier can scarcely afford to end a half with a shot clock violation followed by falling asleep to allow an easy tip in, or to pick up a tech for mouthing at the ref right as they were gaining momentum, or to keep driving at a seven-footer who has been turning blocked shots into assists on run outs all game, or turn the ball over against a last-minute press. Xavier did all of those things.
That’s all it was down the stretch, and Xavier has that in spades. Quentin Goodin shot 5-17 on the day, but he was 4-7 from deep on his way to 15/3/5 with 5 steals and just 2 turnovers. Trevon Bluiett and now JP Macura are nursing some level of ankle injury, but they combined to go 5-10 from deep and shoot the team back into the game late. Tyrique and Shid were 10-11 from the floor and had 23 and 9. And finally, the formerly absent Kaiser Gates was the man who refused to let the team lose in the final minute. He smothered Creighton’s attempts to get second-chance points by securing two monstrous boards. It wasn’t 40 pretty minutes, but it was a huge road win and a statement of intent from a team battling through a ton of adversity.