Xavier snaps losing streak with pair of victories

Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer | Sophomore forward Naji Marshall recorded a career-best 23 points, helping vault the Musketeers over Creighton in an overtime thriller.

Xavier survived an overtime thriller, prevailing 64-61 against Creighton to snap a six-game losing streak.

Sophomore forward Naji Marshall parlayed a 22-point outing against DePaul to deliver a career-best 23-point performance against Creighton.

A key turning point in the second half came with about a minute and 30 seconds left to go in the game. Marshall halted a near four-minute scoring drought with a three-pointer.

On an ensuing possession, junior point guard Quentin Goodin capitalized on a costly Bluejay turnover to tie the game at 59 with 21 seconds left.

Xavier then stopped Creighton’s final shot attempt to push the game to overtime. In the overtime period, Xavier owned a one-point edge in the midst of a 4:08 Creighton scoring drought.

Marshall came through in the clutch again when he hit a runner in traffic that took a fortuitous Xavier bounce into the net –– putting Xavier up by three points.

Creighton guard Davion Mintz had an open look to tie the game on an inbound pass with a second left and missed, giving the Musketeers the leverage to emerge victorious.

“I thought our guys did a tremendous job of guarding,” head coach Travis Steele said. “If we can get that type of effort on the defensive end, and intensity and attention to detail, … we’re going to put ourselves in a lot of games in position to get some wins here down the stretch.”

The first four minutes of the game featured a series of trading baskets. Xavier was successful early by getting the ball inside and penetrating the paint.

The frontcourt tandem of graduate forward Zach Hankins and junior forward Tyrique Jones benefitted the offensive cause. The duo combined for 18 first-half points. Overall, the Musketeers scored 34 points in the paint.

About halfway through the first half, the Musketeers clung to a one-point lead. At the 6:37 mark, Xavier climbed to a 31-23 lead after converting four consecutive shots and went into the break commanding a six-point advantage.

The first half of play was marked by an efficient offense as the Musketeers shot 50 percent from the floor.

Defensively, a hot start for the Bluejays was extinguished by a stalwart defensive showing. The Musketeers blocked six shots in the first half alone, and three of those were produced by Hankins –– the second-leading shot blocker in the Big East.

The Musketeers labored through a low scoring output in a second half in which they only scored 23 points. Perhaps the offense was partially slowed down by a constant switching of defenses by Creighton.

The Bluejays employed both a man-to-man defense and a 1-3-1 zone.

“I thought their zone really affected us there, especially in the second half,” Steele said. “I didn’t think we got to our actions quick enough as I wanted to … Once we got our rhythm … I thought we got a couple of quick baskets against their zone.”

The Musketeers stymied Creighton’s top scorer from the last time these teams met, Martin Krampelj, to just five points in the second half and the overtime period.

“Tyrique Jones, number one, did a great job in the second half and in overtime,” Steele said about what made the difference. He also emphasized how physical of a player Krampelj can be.

Despite committing 15 turnovers, Xavier distributed 18 assists.

The Musketeers then traveled to Providence to face the Friars, where they redeemed their home loss to capture a 75-61 victory.

Here are some takeaways from Xavier’s sizable win on the road against Providence.

1. A complete second half

Against Providence, Xavier played one of its best complete games and in particular, one of its best second halves. The team’s finish was strong. After building up a comfortable lead, the Musketeers never let off the gas and coasted to a confidence-boosting victory. The second half featured an offensive explosion –– including a flurry of dunks. Four Musketeers finished with double-digit points, and Goodin’s seven assists allowed him to eclipse the 100+ assist mark in each of the last three seasons.

2. Defensive showcase

Xavier played staunch defense to lock up the Providence offense. The Musketeers held the Friars to shooting just 36 percent from the floor as a whole and 33 percent from distance. Xavier also kept Providence at bay from the inside as it limited the Friars to six points in the paint.

3. Three-point shooting is on the rise

After losing a majority of its three-point shooters from last season, the Musketeers have endeavored to find consistent long-range shooting. Saturday against Providence provided for a dominant display of distance shooting. Overall the Musketeers shot 57 percent from long range and, even more impressively, made 6 of 7 shots from beyond the arc in the second half.

Momentum is now in the hands of the Musketeers as they head down the final stretch of the Big East regular season.

By: Luke Feliciano | Sports Editor