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Xavier and the refs beat Creighton and the refs in a stunner in Omaha

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Trevon in absentia, but a crazy final minute gives Xavier the victory and the Big East lead.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Creighton
HERO.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier’s biggest advantage in today’s game was supposed to be in the paint, so obviously it started with Quentin Goodin (17/3/2) hitting a three. Marcus Foster (29/8/3) and Khyri Thomas (14/5/4) answered back with a lay-up and a dunk, respectively, and the game was on.

The first half was a study in the team’s contrasting styles, as Xavier didn’t waste any time pounding the post. With Khyri Thomas making life miserable for Trevon Bluiett (6/7/4) on the perimeter, the Muskies just pounded the ball inside to the tune of a 28-10 advantage on points in the paint in the first half alone.

Creighton responded with a barrage of perimeter threats, but - aside from one very fast 10-0 burst - Naji Marshall’s defense was keeping Marcus Foster in check and hamstringing Creighton’s offense. X went into the half up 42-35.

Naji only gets five fouls though, and he got tagged with his third with 17 minutes left and Xavier up 51-45. From that point on, he was a peripheral character in the game, and Creighton got going in his absence.

Marcus Foster - who had 9 in the first half but finished with 29 on 12-25/5-10/0-0 - started getting free against Q, Paul Scruggs, and JP. After Naji’s fourth foul and a quick bucket by Mitch Ballock, Marcus Foster had Creighton’s next 11 points by himself.

The counter to that was how long it took him to do it. At the under-12 media timeout, the Bluejays were ahead 55-54. When another player for Creighton finally tallied, there were just 75 seconds left on the clock, and the score was tied at 68. Both offenses had gone stone cold - or both defenses had stepped up.

Whatever the case, it set up a frenetic final minute. Xavier tried to feed Big Sean (12/3/0), but he got tabbed with a comical travel call. At the other end, JP (15/9/2) forced Marcus Foster into a long jumper and Kaiser grabbed the board. JP’s heroics weren’t done, as he tapped in an O’Mara miss with 26 seconds left to put X up 2.

Foster’s last field goal attempt of the game came off the rim and was batted around, ending up with Ronnie Harrell (7/5/1) behind the arc. His shot was for the game and errant, but he was gifted three free throws on a questionable foul called on Tre. To his credit, he held his nerve and drilled all three.

Then came the finish. Q sprinted the length of the floor, drew another questionable call, and bloodlessly nailed both free throws to put Xavier up 72-71 with a meaningless .3 left on the clock. The rest was blessedly without whistles, and Xavier escaped with the win.

Not all heroes wear capes

Apparently some of them wear stripes, at least according to the officiating crew tonight. I hate to lead with a ref complaint, but they will be the story. In a game that had gone back and forth for 39 minutes, the men with the whistles took center stage for the 40th. First they called a travel on Sean O’Mara with 1:05 left on a catch. Not much to say here; he just plainly didn’t travel before being run into by Ronnie Harrell.

Speaking of bad calls and Ronnie Harrell, it got worse with 4.6 seconds left and Creighton down 70-68. The ball was tapped out to him and he shot a desperation three as Trevon Bluiett flew by. Tre was tagged with a foul, but the replays showed minimal contact, if any at all.

The coup de grace came on the ensuing possession, now with Xavier down 1. Quentin Goodin took off down the floor with the ball, split a double, and came up against Harrell and Toby Hegner. Q and Harrell definitely made contact before Hegner blocked his shot, but there wasn’t a ton in it. The officials called a foul with .3 seconds left, and Q won the game from the line. Those three calls in the last minute changed the complexion of the game, and they were all clearly blown.

Being good isn’t good enough

Xavier had the beating of Creighton in the line all day. Kanter and O’Mara were 11-16 from the floor and combined for 26 and 8, but Xavier went away from them late. Kerem was 4-5 from the floor in the first half and finished the game 5-6.

As Xavier’s lead dwindled from the 10 it was at the half to the -4 it got to be in the second half, the Muskies continued to press and take long jumpers, which obviously didn’t leverage the team’s greatest advantage. Good is good, but good plus smart is what Xavier lacked today, and it almost cost them the game.

This team’s strength is its depth

With JP needing 16 shots to score 15 points and Khyrifense holding Tre to just 6, Xavier needed to look elsewhere for buckets, and they did. Q had 17 on 6-12/2-5/3-4. The bigs dominated, as discussed above. Naj chipped in 4 and ran himself ragged making Marcus Foster earn his buckets. Kaiser couldn’t get it going, but he had 7 boards as part of an effort that helped Xavier thoroughly dominate the glass. On a day that JP and Tre had 21 on 25 shots, the supporting cast came together to get X a huge road win.