OMAHA, Neb. — Antwann Jones and Denzel Mahoney scored 13 points each to lead No. 13 Creighton to a 66-61 win over 22nd-ranked Xavier on Wednesday, handing the Musketeers their first loss of the season.
The Bluejays used an 8-0 run to start the second half to open up a 44-34 lead before the Musketeers (8-1, 1-1 Big East) cut it to 64-61 with 10 seconds left on Paul Scruggs’ 3-pointer. Creighton inbounded the ball to Jones, but the sophomore transfer from Memphis made an ill-advised decision to throw the basketball away after getting trapped along the baseline.
Adam Kunkel ran it down for Xavier, but his 3-pointer from the left wing was long off the back of the rim and bounced around a crowd of players before landing in Jones’ hands for Creighton. He stepped to the free throw line and made both shots to atone for his mental error on the previous play and the Bluejays (7-2, 3-1) prevailed.
Neither team shot extremely well in the second half as Xavier was 2-for-16 from behind the arc and Creighton 3-for-13 in the final 20 minutes. The difference was at the free throw line where the Bluejays made 11 of 14 down the stretch after struggling in closes losses to Kansas and Marquette. Xavier only got to the line four times in the second half.
For the second game in a row Creighton struggled from the 3-point line. They went 7-of-27 on Sunday afternoon against Connecticut and 8-of-28 against the Musketeers. Yet still they found a way to win both games late.
“It’s two games in a row — last game Marcus (Zegarowski) and Denzel struggled to shoot the ball, and today Marcus and Mitch (Ballock) struggled to shoot the ball, and in the past we haven’t been able to figure out ways to win when that happened,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
“That bench is coming and the depth is being developed. To run off three (wins) in a row after the tough loss to Marquette is a real credit to our guys.”
Xavier opened the game with 22-9 run after knocking down 9 of their first 13 shots. The Musketeers eventually cooled off and the second unit gave the Bluejays enough of a spark to pull ahead 36-34 at halftime.
Jones got Creighton’s offense rolling with 11 points and two assists in nine minutes off the bench in the first half.
“Our bench really ignited us in the first half and got us back in the game,” McDermott said. “The starters threw early in the (second) half to create some separation, which proved to be really important.”
Xavier leading scorer Zach Freemantle was held to seven points on 3 of 9 shooting. He fouled out with 2:38 remaining in the game.
“The foul trouble threw him out of rhythm,” Xavier coach Travis Steele said. “When he picked up two early and was out for a long time it’s hard to sometimes get back going.”
His absence late created a big void in the lineup as Xavier tasted defeat for the first time all season. The Musketeers are now 8-1 on the season and 1-1 in Big East play as they head into the Christmas break.
Xavier: This was just the second road game of the season for the Musketeers. The first was at crosstown rival Cincinnati. A question of whether that high-powered offense could travel with them seemed to be answer early in the game, but after they hot start they missed 40 of their final 55 shots.
Creighton: After falling short in a couple close games against Kansas and Marquette, the Bluejays have proven in their last two games against Connecticut and Xavier that they can grind out wins when everything isn’t clicking on the offensive end.
MUCH NEEDED BREAK
The Big East has made several changes to their upcoming slate of conference games in order to get the teams an extended break over the holiday before jumping back into the heat of the conference title race. Based on not only the shooting numbers, but also the body language of the players during, after, and in between games, it could not come at a better time as a lot of them have not seen their families for several months due to the isolated nature of the season.
“My team is tired,” McDermott said. “This is six games in 16 days and they are running on empty.”
Xavier continues Big East play at home against Seton Hall on Dec. 30.
Creighton will get an extended holiday break before returning to action at Big East rival Providence on Jan. 2.