After one of the roughest first-half shooting performances this season, No. 13 Xavier rallied in the second half against Creighton.
The problem was that the Bluejays also got better in the final 20 minutes, rolling to an 84-67 home win on Saturday.
Xavier (17-5, 9-2 Big East) entered the game with the nation’s fifth-best field goal percentage (.503) but fell off after the first five minutes, shooting just 38.7% in the first half.
Arthur Kaluma scored 20 points for Creighton (13-8, 7-3) and the other four starters finished in double figures. The Bluejays made 34 of their 60 field goal attempts (56.7%) overall, shooting 60.7% in the second half and 53.1% in the first half.
“Playing Creighton at Creighton is not an easy task for anybody,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “I think they’re one of college basketball’s best teams, and certainly one of the Big East’s best teams, maybe overall, because of their defense.”
In addition to the stifling defense, Creighton’s offense had its best day of the month. Ryan Kalkbrenner scored 17 points, Baylor Scheierman had 14, Trey Alexander finished with 13 and Ryan Nembhard added 11 for the Bluejays, who avenged a 90-87 loss to Xavier on Jan. 11.
Zach Freemantle led the Musketeers with 18 points, followed by Colby Jones and Adam Kunkel with 13.
Early in the first half, Xavier had two starters pick up their second fouls 12 seconds apart. Jack Nunge went to the bench, but Miller retained Freemantle.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott said Xavier’s foul trouble spurred him to continue inside the 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner against a smaller lineup — although a similar plan at Xavier earlier this month didn’t go as planned.
“That’s the lineup that created the separation in Cincinnati,” McDermott said. “We hadn’t seen it much before that, but (they’ve) actually played about 50 percent minutes since our game with four and a big. So we were a little more prepared for it this time.”
Miller said Kalkbrenner’s presence “separates Creighton from everybody else,” adding that he “can patrol the basket and block shots, allowing four other players to do things.”
“Creighton has a great way of making you take those tough two(-pointers),” Miller said. “I think Creighton’s defense starts with the big guy.”
Creighton went on a 10-2 run just before halftime for a 42-28 lead. The Musketeers threatened in the second half with an 11-3 run to get within 55-49 on a 3-pointer by Kunkel.
Creighton responded with its biggest offensive outburst of the game, outscoring Xavier 19-8 in less than six minutes to take a 74-57 lead.
Creighton was ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll, but after starting the season 6-0, the Jays went on a six-game losing streak and have struggled to find their footing since. But the Bluejays have now won four in a row to climb into the top four in the Big East.
Creighton committed just six total errors, three in each inning.
Xavier: The Musketeers entered the game leading the nation in assists per game at 21.0. At halftime, Xavier had just six assists before finishing the game with 16.
Creighton: The win over the Musketeers improved Creighton’s home record to 10-1 and also made the Bluejays 6-0 in Big East home games. Creighton’s lone home loss was a 63-53 setback to Nebraska on Dec. 4.
Xavier: Hosts Providence on Wednesday.
Creighton: Plays at Georgetown on Wednesday.
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