OMAHA, Neb. (AP) When Maurice Watson transferred from Boston University to Creighton, he encountered plenty of doubters who told him he lacked the size to survive in the Big East.
Look at him now. He has led a team picked to finish second-to-last in the conference to the bubble of the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Watson played the best game of his career Tuesday night, challenging and usually beating bigger defenders with his drives while scoring 32 points in the Bluejays' 70-56 upset of fifth-ranked Xavier.
His performance, as always, was fueled by an I'll-show-you mantra.
''Just in the fact when you're told you can't do it,'' he said, ''and when you're on a team where people don't have expectations for you.''
The last part of that remark was aimed at prognosticators who picked the Bluejays ninth in the Big East, perhaps not believing Watson was up to the task of replacing three-year starting point guard Austin Chatman.
Greg McDermott said Watson's game against Xavier was among the best of any player he's coached, and that's from the coach and father of 2014 national player of the year Doug McDermott.
''It's right up near the top because we needed this game,'' McDermott said. ''We've had opportunities, because of the league we're in and the nonconference schedule we've played, to have signature wins, and we've fallen short several times. To be able to get it done and see the way he did it, it was really a special performance by a really good point guard.''
Watson grew up in Philadelphia and dreamed of playing at hometown Villanova. He was a top-100 national prospect, according to ESPN.com, and he scored 2,356 points in high school, more than Philly legend Wilt Chamberlain. Yet Villanova didn't even call, and most of the other high majors stayed away.
At 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, he was judged too small. He had plenty of offers from mid-majors, and he led Boston University to 24 wins and the NIT as a sophomore in 2014. Not satisfied, he went searching for a bigger stage. He found it at Creighton.
''Obviously, we would have loved to have had Maurice spend his entire collegiate career here at BU,'' Terriers coach Joe Jones said Wednesday, ''but we are happy for him and his continued success.''
Watson seemed prescient when he said in October, ''I know the type of game we play with the 3-point shooters we have, and teams are going to be forced to play me one-on-one, and I don't think there is anybody who can guard me one-on-one, who can stop me from getting to the basket.''
Against Xavier, Watson grabbed a long rebound, zipped down the court and split two defenders for the Bluejays' first basket. He was just getting started. He made eight drives to the basket and converted on seven. According to Hoop-Math.com, Watson is shooting 64 percent at the rim (layups, dunks, putbacks), the third-best mark on the team behind centers Geoffrey Groselle and Zach Hanson.
Xavier slowed Watson temporarily in the second half with a switch from man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 zone. Watson went to the hoop five times in the last 6 1/2 minutes and scored on four as Creighton put away the game.
''They look like layups to the naked eye,'' McDermott said, ''but if you watch those slowly, those were hard, hard shots. He's really creative.''
Watson leads the Bluejays with 14.8 points per game, but he's equally valuable as a facilitator. His 6.5 assists per game rank second in the Big East and 12th nationally. Watson had five assists against Xavier and could have had more if the Bluejays had shot better than 23 percent from 3-point range.
The Bluejays (16-9, 7-5 Big East) are tied with Georgetown for fourth in the Big East and they play their next four games against teams beneath them in the standings. However far Creighton goes, it's become apparent that Watson will be leading the way.
''I don't think it's any secret Maurice is a rather confident guy,'' McDermott said. ''That confidence and that edge, I think you need some of that on our team, and he's certainly brought that to our basketball team.''