After one of its roughest first-half shooting performances of the season, No. 13 Xavier bounced back in the second half against Creighton.
The problem was that the Bluejays also got better in the final 20 minutes and cruised to an 84-67 home win on Saturday.
Xavier (17-5, 9-2 Big East) entered the game with the nation’s fifth-best field goal percentage (.503), but slumped after the first five minutes, shooting just 38.7 percent in the first part
Arthur Kaluma scored 20 points for Creighton (13-8, 7-3) and its four other starters finished in double figures. The Bluejays made 34 of their 60 field goal attempts (56.7 percent) overall, shooting 60.7 percent in the second half and 53.1 percent in the first.
“Playing Creighton at Creighton is no easy task for anybody,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “I think they’re one of the best teams in college basketball and certainly one of the best teams in the Big East, maybe overall, because of their defense.”
In addition to that suffocating defense, Creighton’s offense had its best day of the month. Ryan Kalkbrenner scored 17 points, Baylor Scheierman had 14, Trey Alexander finished with 13 and Ryan Nembhard added 11 for the Bluejays, who avenged a 90-87 loss at Xavier on Jan. 11.
Zach Freemantle led the Musketeers with 18 points, followed by Colby Jones and Adam Kunkel with 13 each.
Early in the first half, Xavier had two starters pick up their second fouls 12 seconds apart. Jack Nunge went to the bench, but Miller stayed at Freemantle.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott said Xavier’s foul trouble prompted him to keep going in the 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner against a smaller lineup, though a similar plan to Xavier early in the ‘this month didn’t go as planned.
“This is the lineup that created separation in Cincinnati,” McDermott said. “We hadn’t seen it a lot before this, but (they) have actually played probably about 50 percent minutes since our game with four guards and a big. So we were a little more prepared for it this time.”
Miller said Kalkbrenner’s presence “separates Creighton from everyone else,” adding that “he’s able to patrol the basket and block shots, allowing four other players to do things.”
“Creighton has a great way of making you take those two tough (points),” Miller said. “I think Creighton’s defense starts with that big.”
Creighton went on a 10-2 run right before halftime for a 42-28 lead. The Musketeers threatened in the second half with an 11-3 run to get within 55-49 with a triple by Kunkel.
Creighton responded with its biggest offensive outburst of the game, outscoring Xavier 19-8 in less than six minutes to take a 74-57 lead.
Creighton was ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, but after starting the season 6-0, the Jays went on a six-game losing streak and have struggled to find their footing since then. match But the Bluejays have now won four in a row to climb into the top four of the Big East.
STATISTICS OF THE DAY
Creighton committed just six total fouls, three in each half.
Xavier: The Musketeers entered the game leading the nation in assists per game at 21.0. At halftime, Xavier had just six assists before ending the game with 16.
Creighton: The win over the Musketeers improved Creighton’s home record to 10-1 and also made the Bluejays 6-0 in Big East home games. Creighton’s only home loss was a 63-53 setback at Nebraska on Dec. 4.
UNTIL THE NEXT
Xavier: Hosts Providence on Wednesday.
Creighton: Plays Georgetown on Wednesday.
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