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Xavier wins, world seems better

Finally, the Musketeers and their fans wake up on the winning side.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

When I woke up this morning the sun was shining and birds were singing. That’s not allegorical, it’s the genuine truth. A February day in NE Ohio is going to approach 50 degrees, and my little girl who had a 102 degree fever last night woke up with nothing more than a stuffy nose. All of this because the Xavier Musketeers snapped a six game losing streak and won in exciting fashion.*

A large portion of the Xavier fanbase and even some former players had questioned this current squad’s heart and hustle in the preceding weeks. That likely hadn’t actually been an issue, but it certainly wasn’t last night. Xavier’s still deeply flawed team tore into Creighton with a defensive relish not seen often this year. The Bluejay offense that came in top 20 in the nation and fourth in the nation in shooting never gained even the slightest bit of traction.

That the game was a contest is down to Xavier’s own offensive struggles, but the defense rightly stole the show. This was Creighton’s second least efficient game all season. A team that shoots nearly 40% behind the arc on the season shot only 31% last night. Unlike the first meeting between these teams, that wasn’t because the Jays were running rampant inside the arc. Instead, they shot just 40% on their two point tries. Martin Krampelj may have succeeded in making Pete Gillen fall in love with him, but only a 6-7 performance from the line saved a 5-13 shooting night.

Xavier’s offense wasn’t good, but the defense was relentless. The Musketeers blocked 25% of Creighton’s field goal attempts. Noted rim protector Elias Harden threw two, just behind Zach Hankins with three. Harden was 0-3 behind the arc, but he was everywhere on defense. That meant on the floor, around the rim, in the passing lanes, and constantly moving at a speed that made him jump out just that little bit. If there’s any success left to be had in this Xavier season, Harden is a part of it.

Quentin Goodin also struggle on offense but came good on defense. On a night where the Bluejays were trying desperately to get on the offensive glass, Goodin raked in four defensive rebounds. He ended four more Creighton possessions by coming up with steals. This was, finally, the defensive juggernaut that Travis Steele had promised at the start of the year. Creighton managed just .86 points per possession and Xavier somehow won a game in which they went nine minutes without a field goal.

About that offense. As we mentioned in our preview, Creighton could be had inside. Xavier started by feeding the ball to Tyrique Jones, and he responded with ten points in the first 12 minutes. Then he quit seeing the ball. Jones next field goal attempt came with 2:42 to play. In that span the Musketeers tried everything but what had been working. Once again, they shot too many threes (26) and players not named Naji Marshall went 3-15. Once again, Xavier turned the ball over way too much, a full 21% of their possessions. That 21% doesn’t leap off the page is only testament to how Xavier’s profligacy has inured their fans to terrible numbers.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter. Mitch Ballock came up with a huge assist to a streaking Quentin Goodin for the tying layup, Naji Marshall hit two big shots in overtime, and Davion Mintz wide open three at the end went begging. For the first time in fully a month, Xavier was on the winning end.

*These claims not yet tested by independent sources.