Three days before No. 9 Creighton played at Xavier on Saturday, the university made an announcement that underscored how important this game was for the Musketeers. For the first time in the 14-year history of the Cintas Center, Xavier sold standing room only tickets. By the time Xavier wrapped up a 75-69 victory over the Jays, Musketeers fans who packed the 10,250-seat arena to watch their favorite team’s first home game versus a top-10 opponent since 2004 had plenty of reason to celebrate.
Xavier entered Saturday’s game with a good, but not great, resumé. A road win over Saint John’s earlier in the week showed the Musketeers had recovered from the 22-point beating they absorbed at Georgetown three days earlier. They were in better shape than the other Non-Villanova/Creighton Big East teams fighting for an at-large berth. But Xavier needed another big win to shore up its profile, and taking down the first-place Jays certainly qualifies.
Xavier star guard Semaj Christon scored 21 points, swiped four steals and dished out three assists, but the Musketeer’s best player Saturday was forward Justin Martin. Martin scored 19 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds. The Musketeers held a 12-point lead with less than 11 minutes to go, but a layup from senior guard Grant Gibbs pulled the Jays within three around the four-minute mark.
Musketeers guard Dee Davis, who finished with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, buried a three after a Creighton timeout to push Xavier’s lead to six, and forward Jalen Reynolds tacked on a jumper less than a minute later. Neither team converted a field goal for almost two minutes, and Xavier made enough free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
Jays star Doug McDermott finished with 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting to push his career point total to 2,944. He currently sits in 10th place on the NCAA Division I all-time scoring list, but should pass former Kansas great Danny Manning (2,951 carer points) in his next game. (To keep up with McDermott’s chase for 3,000 points, I recommend you check out the McDermott Tracker, a cool interactive feature created by the Omaha World-Herald).
What does this loss mean for Creighton? In regards to the NCAA Tournament, not too much. The Jays are all but guaranteed an at-large tourney berth; the biggest question is what seed they will earn. Depending on how they fare in their final two games of the season – at Georgetown on March 4 and home against Providence four days later – the Jays could be in line for a three-seed.
Creighton has twice beaten No. 8 Villanova this season, but the Jays now sit a half game back of the Wildcats for first place in the Big East. Villanova hosts Marquette on Sunday before traveling to Xavier on March 6 and closing the season at home against Georgetown two days later.
Compared to other Big East teams scrapping to earn at-large berths – Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence – Xavier looks pretty solid. It has an RPI of 49, two top-50 wins (against Creighton and Cincinnati) and a 8-7 record against the top 100. The biggest dings on the Musketeers profile are a home loss to Seton Hall and a neutral court loss to USC – two teams ranked outside the top 100 of the RPI. Before Saturday’s big win, most bracketologists projected Xavier as a 10 or 11-seed. This win could bump the Musketeers up a line.
Xavier can add another big win to its CV before the Big East Tournament starts on March 12. The Musketeers host Villanova on March 8. Not only would beating the Wildcats make Xavier even more of a lock come selection Sunday, it could also shake up the race for first place in the Big East. Creighton is lurking.