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Morning After: #25 Creighton Plays Worst Game of Season at #10 Xavier, Gets Rolled 92-70

Morning After: #25 Creighton Plays Worst Game of Season at #10 Xavier, Gets Rolled 92-70

[Box Score]

Key Stats:

  • Creighton commits 20 turnovers, a season high.
  • Creighton has just 12 assists, a season-low.
  • Creighton scores just 26 points in the paint, a season-low.
  • Creighton shoots 40.7% from the field, their second-worst shooting night of the season.
  • Creighton gives up 13 offensive rebounds, a season-high for an opponent.
  • For the first time all year, they trailed the entire second half. And the 22-point loss is their worst since an 83-58 defeat at Villanova in February of 2016.

Standout Performance:

There were a lot of clunkers in this one. Khyri Thomas had an 0-for from the floor (0-8 overall, 0-5 from three) with four turnovers and subpar defense for the first time all season. Martin Krampelj fouled out in just 22 minutes of action, had only four rebounds, and attempted just two shots, though he made them both. Toby Hegner also fouled out, and missed his only shot attempt. Davion Mintz missed all five of his shot attempts, and had just one assist in 20 minutes. Ty-Shon Alexander was marginally better, hitting one 3-pointer to go along with one assist in 14 minutes.

But there were bright spots. Tyler Clement played just seven minutes but had as many assists (2) as Mintz and Alexander combined, and outscored their combined efforts, as well, with six points. Ronnie Harrell scored 13 points on 4-5 shooting, and had six rebounds, two steals and two assists, and for long stretches of the game was the only Bluejay that didn’t look to be playing in quicksand.

Mitch Ballock was the standout, though. The freshman had missed all six of his three-point attempts in Big East play coming into the game, but hit four of them on Saturday en route to 16 points. If anything good can come from a blowout loss like this, the freshman Ballock finding confidence in his shot during a stretch where his veteran teammates are struggling a bit with theirs would be a huge development.

Recap & Analysis:

Creighton had five turnovers in the first five minutes of Saturday’s game, showing uncharacteristic sloppiness and poor decision making with the ball. It started a scant 21 seconds in, as Khyri Thomas lost the ball while being guarded by Xavier freshman Naji Marshall. Thomas air-balled a three-pointer on the next possession, Marcus Foster sandwiched a pair of turnovers around a three-pointer, and then there were two more turnovers — one by Toby Hegner, another from Thomas — with a second 3-pointer from Foster in between. It was 10-7 Xavier at the first timeout, and the Jays were fortunate to be that close.

They wouldn’t be close for long. Three 3-pointers — one each from Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitch Ballock, and Ronnie Harrell — kept the Jays in the game over the next four minutes, and after Harrell’s triple, X led by four at 24-20. But a 12-2 Xavier run opened up the Musketeers first double-digit lead of the game at 36-22, and the Jays were never within single digits again the rest of the afternoon.

The first six points of Xavier’s decisive run came from a pair of newcomers who got the unexpected start on Saturday, as Coach Chris Mack looked to change things up after two straight losses. Karem Kanter, a 6’10” grad transfer from UW-Green Bay, and Naji Marshall, a 6’7” freshman, traded buckets back-and-forth, and then Kaiser Gates finished it with a three-pointer and a three-point play.

A timeout by the Jays did little to slow Xavier’s scoring, as they made each of their next four shots. But the Jays were able to keep pace thanks largely to Ronnie Harrell. The junior had eight points in the final four minutes of the half, going 4-4 from the line and 2-2 from the field, along with three rebounds and a steal. Still, with their defense having no answer for Xavier’s big men in the paint, the deficit was 16 points, 50-34.

Coach Greg McDermott noted in his postgame press conference that the team looked they were stuck in quicksand. And they did look a step slow, as they had trouble getting comfortable against a Xavier defense that switched nearly every ball screen the Bluejays set the entire half — though that meant a bigger Xavier player often had to defend the Bluejay guards, it also meant if the Xavier big man could stay in front of them, it would give the CU ball handler very little room to maneuver. Many of the sloppier turnovers — the unforced over-and-back, the two perimeter passes to invisible players that sailed out of bounds — were a direct result of those switches.

The start of the second half looked an awful lot like the start of the first, with a flurry of points from Marcus Foster and a flurry of turnovers from every player wearing a Creighton uniform. Foster scored the Jays’ first seven points, four of them on a pair of steals that led to breakaway layups. And after a third steal and transition bucket, this time by Harrell, the Jays had trimmed the deficit a bit to 13 at 56-43 heading into the first media timeout of the half.

It was short lived. Four turnovers in their next six possessions, with two missed layups on the others, resulted in six straight empty trips down the floor. That coincided with a 9-0 Xavier run, with seven of the points scored by 6’10” center Sean O’Mara, to push the lead out to 22 points. Their lead would eventually swell to 27, at 73-46 with 10:13 to go, and the rout was on.

“This is really out of character for us,” Greg McDermott said on his postgame radio show. “We don’t turn it over and we don’t foul, and today we did both. In the first half we had five turnovers before the first timeout, and in the second half we had six turnovers by the second timeout. In two parts of the game where you’re really trying to set the tone, we were unable to do so because of our turnovers.”

Creighton had some fight left in them, though, and with Tyler Clement on the floor, they managed to put together a 16-3 run that cut the Xavier lead in half. 11 of the 16 points came from Mitch Ballock, as he hit a pair of threes assisted by Clement, a third three on his own, and a fast break layup. It was Clement’s own three that capped the run and made the score 76-62, and the decision to put the walk-on in the game was looking like a potentially game-changing one for Greg McDermott.

Unfortunately, both of the Jays’ big men fouled out with 45 seconds of each other — first Krampelj, then Toby Hegner — and Xavier scored nine straight points, all either in the paint or from the line, to ice the game.

Every season for almost every team, there’s going to be a game where they just lay an egg. Where they just don’t have ‘it.’ This was it for the Bluejays.

Creighton’s stinker a year ago was their 71-51 loss to a bad Georgetown team; less than a week later they beat a ranked Butler team on the road. That loss to the Hoyas wasn’t indicative of the Jays season any more than this one blowout loss to Xavier will be this year.

“Every game in this league is tough,” McDermott said. “The reality of it is, there’s no one in our league where if we play like we did today we’re going to win. There may have been times in the past where you could have less than max effort and grind out a win. I don’t think that’s happening this year. Seton Hall’s coming off a 20-point loss to Marquette, and you wouldn’t think that could happen to them. But it happens in this league.”

Especially in the 2017-18 Big East, on nights where you aren’t 100% on your game, blowouts can and will happen. Look around the league; no one has been immune, and we’re only 1/3 of the way through the schedule. Seton Hall lost by 20 on the road to Marquette. Xavier lost by 24 at Villanova. Providence lost by 19 to the Jays. Marquette trailed by 17 much of the game at Villanova before rallying late to lose by 10. Georgetown got hammered by 24 at home against Creighton. St. John’s has had it happen twice, losing by 17 to DePaul and by 22 to Providence. Even #1 Villanova had it happen to them; they were behind by 23 at one point to Butler before rallying to “only” lose by 8.

As WBR’s Matt DeMarinis put it:

They Said It:

You Said It:

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