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Xavier drops an ugly game, 66-61.

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The Musketeers finally had a down game but still nearly outscrapped a top 15 team on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Creighton
Are you having fun, young man? None of that allowed.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you who hoped to tune in this afternoon and see a cage match in which nine players took turns beating Paul Scruggs, congrats, that must have exceeded your wildest expectations. For the rest of us, for everyone with the 23rd of December off and hoping to spend a day watching ball, this game was barely worth the time. After a month plus of playing excellent basketball, the Musketeers finally faltered. That the officials and Creighton faltered along with them did nothing to make this much of a spectacle.

The game started as an absolute barnburner. Xavier came out of the traps hitting just about everything. Paul Scruggs (11/3/4) and Nate Johnson (12/5/1) were both good from deep early. Everyone was. Xavier rode a 17-2 run to a 13 point lead and a 60% chance to grab a big win on the road. That was the high water mark. Xavier’s lead was under 10 just after the ten minute mark as inexorably Creighton drew closer. As they did, Xavier stopped hitting. They didn’t just stop hitting, they went stone cold for the rest of the game. After eight games that had propelled them to the top of most offensive measures, they fell off.

The Musketeers came into this game shooting 41.5% behind the arc as a team, they left shooting 39.1% after an 8-32 effort. Inside the arc the Musketeers shot an abysmal 44.4% (16-36). That was really the story of the dreadful offensive day, though. Xavier didn’t turn the ball over an inordinate amount, just 11 times for a 14.7% TO rate. They made 5-7 of their attempts form the line as well. Significantly, they traversed the last 12:55 of the game without an assist. They ball stuck a bit, but that speaks more to the fact that the shots that have fallen all year just weren’t falling.

That Xavier took only seven free throws speaks to an entirely different set of people laboring under the weight of their own crass incompetence. Kipp Kissinger, Doug Shows, and John Higgins were the officials for today’s game and they were so bad it was hard not to take it as some sort of personal affront. Paul Scruggs was the main victim of their inability to even be mediocre at the job for which they are handsomely paid. Scruggs was tossed to the floor like so much unwanted laundry after a drive in the second half. It was clearly a foul, likely something flagrant. Instead, play went the other way while Scruggs remained motionless on the floor where he fell. Not until there was an offensive sequence and a shot attempt did the officials stop play. They didn’t review the non-call. That was just the most egregious example of the beating Xavier’s senior took all game long. Kyky Tandy (6/5/1) also took a beating every time he ventured rimward.

That bludgeoning when uncalled. What was called was a touch foul when Scruggs spun baseline late in the game and banked in a bucket to bring Xavier within one. Whatever happened drew the attention of one of the otherwise oblivious official, who blew his whistle to wave off the basket and reset the play. The contact was so minimal that both players seemed confused. Same with Zach Freemantle’s (7/5/0) fifth foul, which came on a play where his behavior was bizarre but he made no contact with anyone.

The worst call, by far, was against Christian Bishop. Creighton’s junior forward scored over Ben Stanley and then yelled. He didn’t yell words, mind you, he just yelled. Afraid for the sanctity of the elderly or perhaps the babies in attendance, John Higgins was quick to serve Bishop up with the technical. The moment is immortalized at the top of this page. That is not a technical foul. Calling technicals for trash talk is boomer enough to nearly ruin any game in which it happens. The amount of pearl clutching required to tech someone for yelling is incomprehensible. This entire crew will continue doing games, content in the knowledge that being dog dirt at their job on national television is not disqualifying.

Zach Freemantle will also not look back on this game fondly. He and Jason Carter (6/4/2) combined to play 54 minutes and post a line of 13/9/2 on 6-19 shooting with three turnovers and eight fouls. If you add their offensive rating together it comes to 115. Their individual numbers will be withheld to protect the guilty. Perhaps because those two were misfiring the Musketeers could not get on the glass on the offensive end, either. Seven offensive rebounds meant a 15.9% rate in a game where the chances to grab a miss were bountiful.

Still, despite terrible shooting, misfiring forwards who have otherwise been excellent this year, and officiating that cannot be successfully described on a family site, Xavier still nearly had this game. With time running out the ball fell to Adam Kunkel (7/5/0) with the chance to hit a deep three and be the hero again. This time the shot was a hair strong. That was Xavier’s day in a nutshell. The look was there, it just didn’t go. The Musketeers fought and scrapped all day long and came up just short. That raised them to 43rd in the KenPom rankings and should raise them in the opinion of their fans as well. If a five point loss to #13 on the road is a bad game, what can this team yet do?