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Morning After: Creighton 95, Xavier 89

[Box Score]

Key Stats: Xavier wins the rebound battle by just one, 35-34, after coming in nearly +8 for the season. After starting the game 5-7 from three-point range, Xavier makes just 7 of their next 21 from long range. Doug McDermott scores 35, his twentieth (20th!) game of 30 or more points in his career.

Favorite Moment: Xavier led by as many as 13 early in the first half, but as Creighton chipped into the lead, the crowd got progressively louder and louder, willing their Bluejays back into the game. And when Ethan Wragge, The Lumberjack, chopped down the Musketeers lead with a long three at the 9:04 mark to give CU a 23-22 lead, the place went berserk. Little did they know he was just getting started.

In the opening moments of the second half, Wragge got into one of his patented #wraggebomb zones, making three treys in a span of 62 seconds, each one further away from the basket than the last. After the third, the noise inside the arena was deafening — louder than at any point on New Years Eve against Marquette, louder than at any point during last March’s wild game against Wichita State, maybe louder than at any point in the 10+ years of the CenturyLink Center. Heck, it was so loud Xavier couldn’t communicate on offense, leading to Wragge getting a steal (a steal!) from a befuddled Matt Stainbrook. It’s probably a good thing his outlet pass to Doug McDermott didn’t result in a made three — Doug’s shot hit the rim and bounced off — or else tomorrow night’s game against Butler might have been played outdoors after the roof exploded off the building.

There’s nothing quite like Ethan Wragge when he finds a zone, because not only will he literally shoot from anywhere, his shots barely draw iron. Look at how far out the three’s were in that 90-second sequence:

I mean, HOLY CRAP. No wonder the NBA scouts and GM’s in attendance were giggling (this according to Tom Shatel in this morning’s Omaha World-Herald). Those aren’t even NBA threes. They’re threes in some sort of inter-galactic space league we don’t even know about yet.

(Thanks to ShockerlandJay over on the Underground for those screen grabs, by the way).

Quick Recap: By the time CBSSN and their national TV audience joined the action, the Jays had already spotted Xavier a 12-0 lead thanks to four consecutive three-pointers to open the game, including three from Justin Martin who clearly didn’t get the memo that only Ethan Wragge gets to do that in Omaha.

The barrage was courtesy of a defensive gameplan that backfired — the Jays were doubling the post to keep the gigantic Matt Stainbrook from destroying them, which was a good strategy on paper. But when Stainbrook calmly passed out of those double-teams to the resulting wide-open shooters on the perimeter, and those shooters hit shots, it was deadly. Just 131 seconds into the game, Greg McDermott had to call timeout to stem the tide.

Doug McDermott would score 8 of the game’s next 11 points, cutting Xavier’s lead to 15-8 in the process, but then Stainbrook showed why the Jays were doubling him in the first place — he scored rather easy baskets on back-to-back possessions, and a nifty drive by Semaj Christon gave Xavier their largest lead of the game at 21-8 moments later. That would be the high-water mark for the Musketeers, though, as the Bluejay bench launched a 15-1 run that gave them a 23-22 lead on the aforementioned three-pointer by Wragge. Devin Brooks, Isaiah Zierden and especially Will Artino gave the Jays huge minutes during the stretch, with Brooks scoring on a pair of ankle-breaking drives to the hoop.

Xavier re-took the lead seconds later on a three by Christon, but the 25-23 edge would be their last lead of the day because just as quickly, Brooks drove to the rim, converted a tough shot, and made the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. Xavier would tie the score three more times in the first half, but never retake the lead. Improbably, given that CU had spotted XU a 12-0 lead, and later trailed by 13, the Bluejays were the team taking a four-point lead to the locker room.

In the second half, McDermott started the scoring with two jump shots, and then Wragge made three-pointers on three straight possessions to push Creighton’s lead out to 52-41. At that point, they’d outscored Xavier 52-29 since that opening barrage of threes, dominating the physical Musketeers on both ends of the floor. They’d maintain a double-digit lead most of the half, with their largest advantage being 14 points at the nine-minute mark. Even with the big lead, you got the sense Xavier had another run left in them, and with 2:03 to play the Musketeers made their move. Creighton led 85-73, fans were filing for the exits, Billy Bluejay was waiting in the tunnel with the victory flag…but things were about to get very interesting.

A layup from Stainbrook and a three by Dee Davis, sandwiched around a free throw by Austin Chatman made it 86-78. Chatman was fouled again, and once again made 1-2 at the line. The teams traded turnovers, with Stainbrook throwing it away on one end and Brooks getting his pocket picked on the other, and then Christon drilled a runner to make it 87-80. Brooks was fouled on the inbounds, made both free throws to give CU a 89-80 lead, and then after two misses from long range, the Jays corralled the rebound to seemingly secure the win. Avery Dingman missed both free throws, though, to leave the door open…and Justin Martin kicked it open with a quick three.

Creighton had played well — even excelled — without Grant Gibbs to this point, but on the ensuing inbounds pass, they showed the first signs of what they miss without him. McDermott was the inbounds passer, not Gibbs as has been the case for the last two-and-a-half years, and the team looked discombobulated. Nearing a five-second call, McDermott burned a timeout. They tried again, with similar results, and again burned a timeout. Finally, on the third try, they got it in, but the pass put Chatman in a tough position and he was unable to corral it. Myles Davis drilled a three for Xavier, and out of nowhere it was a one-possession game.

Taking a deep breath, the Jays got the ball inbounds to Manigat, who was fouled and hit two free throws. Another three from Martin kept Xavier alive, 93-89, and then two final free throws from Chatman sealed the win. A hard-fought, back-and-forth, slugfest of a game ended in a CU win, and I’m not sure who was more exhausted — those who played in the game, or those who screamed their lungs out in the stands.

Quotables:

“It was looking ugly early on. They hit some shots that our scouting report told us to allow — we were letting Martin and Davis shoot those. They just happened to get it rolling early. We did a great job of not panicking. We took that timeout, kind of got back together, got back to doing what we do, which is getting stops and hitting shots.” – Doug McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“My shoulder is feeling fine. I got a shot before the game that kind of took away the pain and numbed it up a little bit. That really helped. But I didn’t try to think about it too much, I just tried to play my game. I did take a couple of hard falls, and I might be sore tomorrow, but we’ve got another day of rest before Butler.” – Doug McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“It was tough sledding in the post. Stainbrook, you have to give him a lot of credit. He’s a heckuva passer out of the double-team. We had to get there a little faster, because he was seeing too much — he’s 6’11”, he can see over us — so we had to do a better job of getting to him faster. He made us pay there to start the game, and then we switched it up a bit which confused him a little bit.” – Doug McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“Xavier did a lot of switching defensively. I had Stainbrook on me a little, and when he was, I tried to get the ball off screens and tried to make him move, because he struggles with that. And when we got on that roll, and Ethan was shooting them from half court, I just found him because I knew Stainbrook was on him. No one really knows how close you have to be to Ethan to make him miss, and he really made them pay for sagging off of him during that stretch.” – Doug McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“The crowd, there were times where it was really loud, and we need that. We only have seven home games left as a group here, and that was unbelievable. Jahenns, of course, got the crowd fired up with his arm waves (laughs) and I thought they were amazing.” – Doug McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“Oh man, that first two minutes. Obviously, you lose Grant, that’s the last thing you want to have happen to you right away. You know, but you have to tip your hat to Xavier. Martin had made 14 threes on the year, he was shooting about 36% percent but 14 makes isn’t very much — and for them to come out, rolling like that in their first conference road game, is really a credit to them. We had good possessions the first three times down. Doug missed an open three, Ethan missed an open three, and Doug had a right-handed hook that went in-and-out. So when I took that timeout, I just said, ‘We’re getting good shots, and they’re taking the shots that we want them to take. So we have to be a little more aggressive with the double-team, a little more aggressive to be a little more active on the backboards, and try to get to their guys a little quicker.'” -Coach Greg McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“We beat a heckuva basketball team. Xavier’s good. We’ve been playing pretty well defensively and I thought we played really well the last 16 minutes of the first half and the first four or five minutes of the second half. But then they hung 54 on us in the second half. There hasn’t been many teams that have been able to do that this year. We beat a really good team that’s going to a win a lot of games before it’s all said and done.” -Coach Greg McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“On the press activity late in the game, we missed Grant badly, as you were able to witness, but I thought overall our bench stepped in well. Avery did an admirable job slowing down Semaj Christon; in the second half we let him get to his right hand a little more, and let him get going in transition so that’s something Avery and I have to watch film of and talk about. But I thought he competed. We made the run in the first half when Isaiah was on the floor, just making plays for other people and making good decisions with the basketball. Will came in and did a great job. And obviously Devin had a huge impact on the game.” -Coach Greg McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“The way they started the game, it’s such a benefit to them with the way we were post doubling because now you’re a little more hesitant, you’re a little further away on the weak side, you’re not as aggressive as you should be on those post double-teams. Stainbrook is a good player. He fights for his angles, gets to his spots. Obviously, there was some trade-off. We got some open threes for Doug and Ethan but we gave some stuff up defensively. That’s kind of why we backed off the double-team a little, I just felt like if we were going to give up something, let’s give up two instead of three. We went with Will down there, hoping we could trade three for two when he was in the game, and we were able to do that. We had some really good screening activity to get Doug and Ethan free, and then they did their thing, knocking down shots.” -Coach Greg McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

“The fans have really bought-in right now. They wouldn’t let us hang our heads, and they were ready to go every possession. And as soon as we showed a glimmer of a run to get back into it, several times we had communication problems on defense because our guys couldn’t hear one another. The crowd was that loud. If we can’t hear each other when we’re standing next to one another, there’s no way Xavier players can hear their coach from the bench. We won the game today because of the crowd. If this game’s played on a neutral court somewhere with 800 people in the building, we don’t win this game. We won today because of our home crowd. They were outstanding.” -Coach Greg McDermott on 1620AM Postgame

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