Creighton head coach Greg McDermott will return to the bench following a week-long absence resulting from COVID-19 protocol as his Bluejays look to split the season series against No. 21 Xavier on Saturday in Omaha, Neb.
In their first meeting, Xavier (14-5, 4-4 Big East) fought back from a five-point halftime deficit to defeat Creighton 80-73 in Cincinnati on Jan 15. All eight players who entered the game for the Musketeers found the scoring column, with six players scoring in double figures.
The Musketeers were paced by Zach Freemantle's first double-double of the season (13 points, 11 rebounds). Fremantle's nine rebounds in the second half gave the Musketeers a 25-16 rebounding edge in the half and allowed them to score 24 of their 51 second-half points in the paint.
Creighton (12-6, 4-3) turned the ball over 21 times that day, allowing 19 points off those errors.
Alex O'Connell led the Bluejays' offensive attack with 22 points, shooting 7 of 10 from the field and 4 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. Ryan Hawkins added 13 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in the loss. Hawkins and O'Connell are tied for the team lead in scoring at 12.9 points per game.
Since the teams' last meeting, Creighton racked up home wins over St John's, 87-64, and DePaul, 60-47, before getting bounced at Butler 72-55 on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Musketeers are reeling, having lost back-to-back games at Marquette, 75-64, and vs. conference leader Providence 65-62.
On Wednesday, Butler went on a 14-0 second-half run and held Creighton well under its 70.9-point scoring average. The Bluejays sank only 2 of 22 on 3-point attempts and shot 35.6 percent from the field.
"We've got to do a better job of putting them in a position to maybe get something easy to try to get them going," McDermott said. "Hopefully we can inject some confidence in them (Thursday and Friday) as we prep for a very difficult game against a Xavier team coming off two losses in a row."
Xavier overcame a 14-point deficit to take the lead against No. 17 Providence before a late 3-pointer by the Friars decided the game. Despite the defeat, the Musketeers' effort was not wasted on their coach and players.
"I think people get caught up on wins and losses. I'm more focused on the quality of play on both ends," Xavier head coach Travis Steele said. "Our group has played really, really hard, we've competed every single night, but our execution level has got to be better."
Following the loss to Providence, Xavier big man Jack Nunge said of Steele, "He told us we gotta have amnesia. Every night in this league is going to be a fight for 40 minutes. We gotta be ready to play Saturday against Creighton. They're playing as good as anybody in the league."
Nunge (12.5 points per game), Paul Scruggs (11.4), Colby Jones (11.2) and Nate Johnson (10.7) continue to lead the Musketeer offensive attack, which averages 73.8 points per game. Creighton's defense allows 65.8 points per game.
Xavier has won the last two meetings against Creighton, with both games occurring in Cincinnati. The last time the Musketeers won at Omaha was in February 2018.
--Field Level Media