Creighton Scoring: McDermott 27, Gibbs 9, Wragge 9, Brooks 6, Hanson 5, Artino 4, Manigat 3, Chatman 2, Zierden 2, Dingman 2
Key Performance: Justin Martin's intensity out of the gate was ridiculous. In less than nine minutes of action he had already achieved his season-high of eight rebounds, and he played with confidence and aggressiveness on the offensive end. At halftime he had nine points on 4-of-6 shooting (1-of-2 3PT) to go with 12 rebounds and two turnovers. Martin said he had put a greater emphasis on rebounding because any time the bigs are chasing offensive players on the perimeter he becomes a lot more important as a rebounder, and he also said he loved the opportunity to prove himself against one of the top players in the country in McDermott while going head-to-head on the defensive end at times. He finished with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-of-7 3PT), 16 rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal.
Good Stat: The most important aspect of the game when it comes to beating Creighton is 3-point shooting. The Blue Jays are a ridiculously good shooting team, and there's only so much you can do to stop that. On Saturday, not only did the Musketeers slow down their perimeter attack by holding them to just 29 percent from beyond the arc, butt they countered by knocking down 9-of-16 attempts (56%). Dee Davis led the way by knocking down 4-of-5 from 3-point range, while Martin added 3-for-7 and Christon was 2-for-4. Creighton clearly felt more comfortable defending the post and letting the Musketeers attempt open threes, but that plan backfired on them and was a big reason for why Xavier was able to come away with the win.
Bad Stat: This is getting rather picky, but when you beat the No. 9 team in the country and outplay it in most every facet of the game then it tends to get that way, so the Musketeers out-rebounded Creighton 34-32 but were beat 11-8 on the offensive glass. A lot of this is due to the fact that Creighton was attempting so many jump shots which creates long rebounds, but four of them stood out in particular because they were grabbed by 6-foot guard Austin Chatman in the closing moments of the game. It's not a huge deal, but he kept two plays alive in the final minutes that led to Creighton baskets. All X's guards needed to do was get in there and get a body on himl, but instead the small athletic guard was able to crash the glass full throttle without so much as being bumped. If you're going to get defensive stops in the final minute of the game, it's worth making sure the smallest player on the court is boxed out so you don't have to defend again or give up second chance points.
X's Supporting Cast Shines: Neither Xavier nor Creighton had a good answer on the defensive end for the opposition's best player, and quite frankly not many teams do have one for Semaj Christon or Doug McDermott. We knew those guys were going to be a match-up problem either way coming into the game, and that proved to be the case as they both played well. McDermott had a little bit better game with 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting and 5-of-12 from 3-point range to go with 10 rebounds and two assists, but for the most part they canceled each other out as Christon scored 21 points on 8-of-18 from the field and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc with three assists and a rebound. After those two guys, Xavier had by far the next best two players on the court in Justin Martin and Dee Davis, and probably the next best three if you include Stainbrook in there even though his production wasn't quite there in the boxscore. Martin, as mentioned above, was an absolute beast from start to finish in this game. It wasn't just the impressive stat totals that he put up either, but the fact that he was so very clutch in this game when Xavier needed him most. He had back-to-back buckets around the 9:00 mark of the first half to extend X's lead from two to six after the Blue Jays had cut it down to a single possession. In the second half, both of his threes were in response to threes by McDermott, which kept Creighton from ever getting on a serious run. If it wasn't for Martin, Davis would have easily been the "key performer," for Xavier. Davis played brilliantly with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooing, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, to go with five assists, two steals and three turnovers. He took advantage of the opportunity presented by Creighton doubling Stainbrook in the post and knocked down a few great looks from three, and that was big considering the Blue Jays' gameplan coming into the game was to leave some of the Musketeers open from the outside -- a strategy that's only costly if X takes advantage and makes outside shots, which Davis stepped up and did. Finally, despite only scoring five points on 2-of-3 shooting and hauling in just four boards, Stainbrook also played pretty well and made a huge difference in the win. His mismatch inside against Creighton forced them to sell out defensively to stop him, and while they were able to do so, he was patient and smart enough to let the trap come, make a good pass and get his team a wide open look, even if it wasn't directly off his pass to where he got an assist. He finished with four assists total, but his passing led to several more Xavier baskets than that indirectly.
Xavier's Defense Shows Improvement Against Creighton: Last time against Creighton, the Musketeers allowed the Blue Jays to score 95 points. They shot 55 percent from the field, including 50 percent (14-of-28) from 3-point range, and averaged 1.21 points per possession. On Saturday, X's defense held them to just 69 points, 11 below their average. The Blue Jays shot just 39 percent from the field, including 29.4 percent from three (10-of-34), and they averaged .972 points per possession, which was clearly the biggest difference between the games. Part of it is on Creighton. When they don't shoot it really well from the outside (which is rare) and get the defense in a chasing mode, they have a tendency to become a little stagnant. They float on the perimeter a little too much instead of using the spread out defense to their advantage by diving to the rim for easy buckets like they did the first game. Mack says they're the toughest team he's scouted because of the actions they run for their two perimeter-oriented big men, Wragge and McDermott, but on Saturday his team looked prepared. Wragge getting in foul trouble and only playing 20 minutes definitely helped the Musketeers, but even when he was in there they did a good job of matching up. Their perimeter defense was much better, especially in transition as they sprinted back to get into position and then finally realized that Creighton doesn't want to attack the basket on the break, but rather they just probe the defense while looking to kick out to an open shooter. Attacking in transition is always a part of Creighton's gameplan, but X did a great job of getting back and it seemed to cause the Blue Jays to play a little flustered at times. They ended up turning the ball over 15 times which led to 17 points for Xavier. That's something that Creighton doesn't typically have to overcome on the defensive end. They're never a great defensive team but when they have to make up for giving away 17 freebies, that definitely puts them at a disadvantage. The Musketeers had 10 steals, led by Christon's four. Creighton is averaging just nine turnovers per game on the year. McDermott still ended up getting off for a big night, but even individually against him X did a pretty good job. They forced him to hit tough shots for the most part, and he had to work for his points. Martin and Philmore switched off of him mostly, with Reynolds getting a few possessions on him throughout the game. Perhaps the most important part to the Muskies' defensive effort was their ability to look to the next possession and not hang their head after McDermott did a tough shot or Creighton executed for a good look. The Blue Jays are good at getting teams out of their gameplan defensively and forcing them to just chase the ball like we saw in Omaha, but the Musketeers were able to avoid that on Saturday.
Takeaway: The Musketeers are now comfortably in the NCAA tournament and from this point on are really just playing for seeding, but there is still plenty for them to achieve. This win showed what this team is capable of when it plays to its potential. There were no gimmicks, no major changes, just an intense effort on both ends, and they executed. If those teams played 10 times, at least nine of them would be great games. Both teams are fairly evenly matched talent wise, but they present horrible match-up issues for each other. The energy inside the Cintas Center was absolutely insane. It was without a doubt the best atmosphere and loudest I've heard the gym in my three years on the beat. The Musketeers have now put themselves in a position where they have some upside left to this season if they can take care of business at Seton Hall and then potentially pull another upset against Villanova or in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.