CINCINNATI — Moments after Xavier defeated No. 9 Creighton to bolster its NCAA Tournament hopes on Saturday, the Musketeers weren’t in a celebratory mood, not after chasing national player of the year candidate Doug McDermott for 40 minutes.
“We’re tired,” said XU guard Semaj Christon. But despite their melancholy demeanor, there’s little question it was a huge win for the Musketeers.
Christon scored 21 points and junior guard Justin Martin added 19 points and 16 rebounds for his first career double-double, lifting Xavier to a 75-69 victory over the Bluejays before a standing-room only crowd of 10,483 at Cintas Center.
Point guard Dee Davis contributed 15 points and five assists for Xavier (20-9, 10-6 in the Big East), which solidified its third-place standing in the league.
“This feeling is kind of surreal,” said a subdued Martin. “Part of it is that we have a game on Monday (at Seton Hall). We’ve got practice in the morning. We like winning. We just have to move on to the next game.”
Creighton trailed for more than 39 minutes on Saturday, but McDermott did his best to rally his team, scoring 27 points, including five 3-pointers, for the Bluejays (23-5, 13-3 in the Big East), which had won four straight.
“Nothing to worry about here,” McDermott said. “We’ve got to play more inside out and not floating around the perimeter. I thought we buckled down in the second half. Xavier did a better job getting back and getting their defense set. They did a great job.”
McDermott, who scored 35 points in Creighton’s win over Xavier in January, started slowly on Saturday but he would heat up, scoring 16 of his points after halftime.
Creighton hit 14 3-pointers in beating Xavier in Omaha, but missed its first seven 3-point shots to finish 10 of 34 from beyond the arc on Saturday.
“Anytime we get up 34 (3-point shot) attempts, I like our chances,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. “It was a physical basketball game. We uncharacteristically turned the ball over. We were kind of sped up tonight. Part of the credit for that goes to Xavier.”
Creighton committed 15 turnovers, six above its season average. Xavier recorded 10 steals, four by Christon.
Much like they did in the first meeting, Creighton double-teamed Xavier’s post players. But the Musketeers made the most of their perimeter opportunities, connecting on three straight 3-pointers to grab the early lead.
“All week long, we talked about our bigs making the simple pass when they trap,” Davis said.
The Bluejays wouldn’t stay cold for long, connecting on four of their next six 3-point shots, including two straight by McDermott.
Consecutive layups by Christon put Xavier ahead, 41-30, late in the first half.
Xavier shot 58 percent in the first half, including five of six from 3-point range, to build a 43-34 lead at halftime.
“We played with so much toughness, so much heart,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “Creighton is the hardest team to scout in the country. They do things that other teams can’t. I’m proud of our effort.”
Christon and Martin each hit a 3-pointer to help put the Musketeers ahead, 54-42, with 14:49 left.
As expected, Creighton made a run with under 10 minutes remaining.
A dunk by freshman forward Zach Hanson trimmed Xavier’s lead to 61-53.
McDermott didn’t have a field goal for nearly nine minutes before burying a 3-pointer to cut Xavier’s lead to three with 5:18 left.
But the Musketeers answered with a run of their own to regain control.
Reynolds scored to put Xavier ahead, 68-60. Davis drew a charge from guard Austin Chatman and the crowd began to sense a huge victory for the Musketeers.
“I thought they were an NCAA Tournament team before tonight,” Greg McDermott said of Xavier. “We knew what was at stake for them today. That’s what makes it a little more disheartening that we didn’t turn our fight on soon enough.”
NOTES: Creighton F Doug McDermott needs eight points to pass Danny Manning of Kansas for ninth place on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list. … Creighton
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