Xavier had an incredibly turbulent week ths week, in the midst of an already turbulent season. Through the loss of their worldbeater of a point guard on Sunday, they battled to a win at MSG, then stormed back from a second half defecit to down Seton Hall at home, and today capped it by erasing Creighton's 7 point lead with 8 minutes left to send a sell out CenturyLink Center crowd home unhappy (probably after venting their frustrations at JP Macura). It was a week where Xavier, who came into it having lost 4 of 5, faced gut check after gut check and came out of it having passed with flying colors.
Today's game was always going to be about a team 8 players deep with a true freshman point guard trying to do whatever it took to win the game. X was back to being an underdog against a talented, if not similarly in absence of their talismanic point guard, Creighton squad fresh off a road win at Butler. Tyrique Jones, who is now establishing himself as the snarling lane bully X fans are expecting him to become, scored the Musketeers first 6 points, serving notice that he would not be cowed by the Bluejays' 7 foot shot blocking menace Justin Patton. It was that refusal to back down that would later propel a Xavier rally that brought them back into a game that looked all but up.
Six and a half minutes in Xavier was leading by 5 after Quentin Goodin hit his second three of the afternoon, the first time he has made multiple triples in a college game. Over the next eight and a half minutes, Xavier would fail to make a single field goal as Creighton took the lead for the first time and stretched it all the way out to 6. The lead would be 11 with two minutes to go in the half, but Xavier would rally and have the ball with a chance to cut it to a two posession game at the break with 38 seconds left. What happened was a lane violation, a Cole Huff tip-in, and a comlete loss of momentum for Xavier, who trailed by 9 after opening the half so well.
Xavier came back out of the gate throwing haymakers as Jones, Macura, and Gaston combined for a 13-5 run in the first four and a half minutes to cut the lead to a point. Creighton responded with an 11-3 of their own to restore the margin. Xavier would battle it back to a one posession game with a Kaiser Gates three at the 9:27 mark, but the Bluejays would quickly go score, stop, score to take the wind out of Xavier's sails and give the Omaha crowd a reason to once again crank the noise to deafening levels, sensing that having the momentum and a 7 point lead, it was just a matter of time before their team saw off the Muskies for good. But Xavier has gotten pretty good at sustaining body blows this week.
To start the comeback JP Macura, who had 13 of his 15 in the second half after being vocal about the need to increase the urgency and energy at halftime, knocked down a three. It was folllwed by Goodin's fourth three of the afternoon. Marcus Foster answered with a two, but Goodin set up Tyrique Jones, who scored 16 points without missing today, to keep the pressure on. A Toby Hegner split from the line was followed by a Kaiser Gates layup and a Foster free throw set the stage for the last 3:51 to be an all out sprint to the finish.
If there has been one player Xavier could count on this season, it has been Trevon Bluiett. He dropped 40 in the shootout. He was clutch against St. John's after Ed left the game. He battled an ankle injury to hit the game winner against Seton Hall. He has been on standby whenever Xavier has needed a bucket and delivered again and again. Today he hit back to back threes to put Xavier ahead by 5 with three minutes to play. Over a crucial five minutes, Xavier went on a 16-4 run to turn the game on its head and silence the previously raucous Creightob faithful. They weren't quite out of the woods yet, though.
X still led by 4 with minute left, thanks to a Macura three and a Gaston free throw. What followed was a mimute of basketball that was sure to send the losing team home wondering what could have been had they executed. Bluiett grabbed a board from a Patton miss and was fouled, leaving X five short of the bonus. Creighton then stole the inbound and Foster hit a three to cut the lead to one. Xavier would then turn it over on their next two posessions, only for Creighton to come up empty. By the time Goodin went to the line with 20 seconds left, hearts were in throats on both sides. Goodin only managed a split, but Creighton came up empty for the third time in 15 seconds and sent Gates to the line. Gates hit them both to stretch the lead back to four. Justin Patton tipped back a Foster miss witb 4 seconds left as Creighton clung to a final, desparate hope. Quentin Goodin would miss his chance to ice the game for Xavier, but Toby Hegner would throw away the Bluejays last chance and Xavier would walk out narrow winners after a wild finish.
This team might not be as deep as we were expecting them to be at the end of last season. They don't have the veteran savvy of Myles Davis or the explosiveness of Edmond Sumner at the point. But the freshman are emerging as a forceful post with surprising touch and a fearless point with a radar for his teammates. Bluiett is accepting the mantle of big shot taker, Bernard is papering over the cracks on defense, Macura is doing all the little things he does to win, and Gates, Gaston and O'Mara are taking turns stepping into the spotlight when need be. It might not be how we envisioned it last April, but Team 95 is doing something pretty special.