That game was a relatively joyless watch. Not in the way that it wasn’t fun, because it was, but because it was such a sweet relief to Xavier playing like themselves again that other emotions were to some extent crowded out. The Musketeers came out today and just flat out crushed a very good Creighton team. That doesn’t erase the futility of Wednesday or eliminate some of the very legitimate concerns about the team, but it’s a massive step in the right direction. The reasons for the comeback were as diverse as they were plentiful.
- Coach Mack was on top of his game: At the end of the first half, Xavier had the ball, the lead, and a ten second gap between the shot and game clock. Quentin Goodin dribbled the ball until X had seven to go. JP came to get the ball and fed Kerem Kanter on the left elbow. Trevon Blueitt broke up from the baseline and rubbed his man off Kanter to open up for a three that pushed the lead to 16 and Xavier’s winning chances to 94.5%. It was a beautifully designed set play, a situation where Coach Mack always excels.
It wasn’t just set plays though, Mack made sure that his main weapon got going again (more on that in a moment), but also took full advantage of Xavier’s dominance inside. Sean O’Mara (12/4/3) and Kerem Kanter (12/8/2) got touches early and often in the post and, to no one’s surprise, Xavier’s offense got rolling from the inside out.
- Trevon was back: It took him some time to get going, but Xavier’s leading scorer and talisman showed some great signs, especially in the second half. In that half, Tre (24/5/2) went for 15/3/0 on 6-9 from the floor and 3-5 from behind the arc. He’s always better in the second half and better at home, but it was very good to see the Musketeer’s best player rolling again.
- Jumpers fell: X shot 11-24 from behind the arc. That started with 7-12 from deep in the first half, when Xavier put the game away. The Musketeers are a team that has to get jumpers to fall in order to win, the last week showed us that, and today they did. The dominance inside opened up the perimeter, and good looks went down. Almost as importantly, Xavier shot 13-18 from the line. Absent two uncharacteristic misses from Q (2/3/6), that’s a good day.
- The secondary players stepped up: One of our keys to the game beforehand was that someone had to step up from the supporting cast. While Trevon had a great game, JP (10/6/5) was only 2-7 from the floor. Thankfully, Kaiser Gates (16/8/1) came to play. Not only did he shoot 2-4 from behind the arc, he attacked the rim, and got on the glass. Gates is the complete player when he’s at 100% and when he, Kanter, and O’Mara are all rolling, Xavier looks like a juggernaut.
- Paul Scruggs threw a pass at the top of the key that wasn’t intercepted: Joking aside, the coaching of Scruggs (6/ was obvious on one second half possession. Once again Scruggs was high on the wing and, once again, the play clearly called for ball reversal. This time, Paul stepped aggressively, looked into the post, and then whipped a chest pass across the top. A Xavier player caught in. When not throwing passes to his teammates, Scruggs also knocked down two three pointers when Creighton basically dared him to, attacked on offense, and threw a shot on defense. He still did some Donny Marshall level dumb stuff, but he looked like a solid college player again today.
- Naji Marshall is going to be a player: Marshall (10/3/1) wasn’t Gates level excellent today, but he was more than serviceable and was once again utterly fearless. Marshall’s performances slipped against Providence and in the first half at Nova, but he’s at his best when he’s assertive with the ball. He was today, and his ability to play at a solid level gave Coach Mack the luxury of resting Tyrique Jones and his banged up hand.