OMAHA, Neb — In a typical BIG EAST battle, the No. 13 Creighton Bluejays outlasted No. 22 Xavier 66-61 on Wednesday, Dec. 22 to deal the Musketeers their first loss of the season.
The win lifted the Bluejays to 7-2 on the season and 3-1 in BIG EAST action, while Xavier fell to 8-1 overall and 1-1 in conference action.
Holding a 57-56 lead with under three minutes left senior Denzel Mahoney gave Creighton the breathing room it needed with an driving bucket at the rim as well as the bonus free throw. Mahoney knocked down the free throw to make it a 60-56 contest with 2:38 remaining.
Xavier answered via a driving layup from Adam Kunkel, but Creighton closed the door with strong defense down the stretch and hit six-of-eight from the charity stripe in the final minute.
The opening moments of the game saw Xavier came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders, using a 17-2 run to build a 17-5 edge with 14:26 on the clock. The Musketeers built their early advantage by opening the game 7-of-10 from the field and went on to lead by as much as 13 at 22-9 (12:59), hitting four of their first six from long range.
Creighton, however, rallied with a spark from its bench. Consecutive buckets from sophomore Shereef Mitchell on a driving layup, then a long-range splash by sophomore Antwann Jones made it 22-14 (10:58).
Xavier responded with a pair of treys from KyKy Tandy, but the Bluejays’ offense refused to be denied.
Trailing 28-16 (9:28) the Bluejays stormed out on a 14-3 run. Mahoney got things started with a three from the left wing, then Jones connect for the traditional three-point play. Moments later Jones connected again to make is a 28-24 contest. Following a Musketeer trey, Jones and senior Mitch Ballock connected from deep themselves to bring Creighton within one point at 31-30 (5:19).
The momentum continued to flow the Bluejay way over the final 4:43 of the opening half, with Xavier missing its final seven shots. Creighton took advantage with interior buckets by senior Alex O’Connell and junior Christian Bishop to seize a 36-34 lead at the break.
Creighton seized the opportunity early in the second half with an 8-0 run to push its lead out to double-figures at 44-34 (18:10). Junior Marcus Zegarowski scored five of the Bluejays’ eight points in the opening moments. Xavier, meanwhile, continued to struggle with six missed field goals to open the half.
The Musketeers rallied with a short 7-2 burst to get within five, setting the stage for the hard fought finish.
Four Bluejays closed the game in double figures, led by 13 points from Jones and Mahoney. Bishoip and Zegarowski delivered 10 points in the victory. Xavier got 12 points from Nate Johnson and 11 from Paul Scruggs.
One of the key stats in the contest was three-point shooting. After opening the game 4-of-6 (66.7%) from beyond the arc, Xavier finished 8-of-32 (25.0%), including 2-of-16 (12.5%) in the second half. Creighton was marginally better finishing 8-of-28 (28.6%) in the contest.
Creighton returns to the floor on Jan. 2 in a road game at Providence at 11:00 am.