No. 13 Xavier gets rocked by Creighton in first lopsided loss of the season

OMAHA, Neb. ‒ It was always going to be a difficult week for Xavier’s men’s basketball team to win a pair of road games against two of the tougher opponents on its conference schedule, and Saturday at the CHI Health Center Omaha was a perfect example of difficult it was.

In an 84-67 loss to Creighton, Xavier head coach Sean Miller said after the game, "Playing Creighton at Creighton is not an easy task for anybody. I think they're one of college basketball's best teams. Certainly one of the Big East's best teams, maybe overall, because of their defense. They may be the best overall team in our conference, which is saying a lot."

Creighton's Ryan Kalkbrenner (11) shoots over Xavier's Souley Boum (0) in the first half. Boum was held to a season-low two points.
Creighton's Ryan Kalkbrenner (11) shoots over Xavier's Souley Boum (0) in the first half. Boum was held to a season-low two points.

Xavier’s first four losses this season were by a combined 14 points, making Saturday the first time the Musketeers lost a game that truly got out of hand.

Miller knew it would be a tall task, especially coming off an emotional road win on Wednesday at UConn.

"Every schedule has its pockets where you know it's gonna be tough," Miller said. "I knew, not from an excuse perspective, playing at UConn, playing at Creighton, and the travel and the quick turnaround that it was going to be a tall order. And we lost to a better team today."

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Statistically, Creighton's the best defensive team in the Big East. The Bluejays showed why that's the case on Saturday.

Souley Boum, Xavier's leading scorer, was held to a season-low two points. In Xavier's two conference losses, Boum's been held to a total of six points.

"The one thing that separates Creighton from everybody else is you can't underestimate the value of (7-foot-1 center) Ryan Kalkbrenner. You just can't. He's able to patrol the basket and block shots and allow the four other players to do things that some of these other teams aren't able to do because the basket's not protected," said Miller.

Creighton made Xavier attempt a lot of tough two-point field goals when the Musketeers are a team that's made a living off generating good looks around the rim.

Also, Creighton point guard Ryan Nembhard was more than up for the challenge of defending Boum.

"I thought (Nembhard) took it upon himself and was physical, didn't leave Souley, gave great effort and concentration. They did as good of a job on Souley as any team that we've played," said Miller.

The Musketeers actually got off to a decent start. The game was tied 19-19 midway through the first half.

Then the Bluejays put a pace on Xavier that the Musketeers were unable to handle.

Creighton got to the rim, finished when they got there, dominated the glass, and made it difficult for Xavier’s offense to find any kind of rhythm.

Creighton closed the first half by outscoring Xavier 23-9.

"We just didn't have enough and you kind of felt that way from about mid-first half on," said Miller.

Xavier was unable to stop Creighton forward Arthur Kaluma, who led all scorers with 20 points and nine rebounds.

"He just drove it right at our guys ... just did a great job. Had four second shots. I think he had two or three on one play, 7-for-16 from the floor, 20 points, he also didn't have a turnover," said Miller. If Kaluma's able to score 20 points and play that game without a turnover, an already good team becomes even better."

Saturday was more evidence of the fact that the hardest games Xavier will face are against teams that can defend.

Xavier's defense wasn't anywhere near the level of Creighton's.

"We've shown glimpses and I think we've strung together really solid halves against some excellent teams where we've played some very good defense, but we've won a lot of games this season because of outscoring the other team, and tonight, especially in the first half because of their defense, we weren't able to do that," said Miller.

There would likely be a lot of coaches who would take Xavier's offensive output on Saturday, said Miller, pointing to his team's numbers ‒ 30-of-62 from the field, 4-for-14 from 3, and nine turnovers.

"I know the points we had, 67, we usually score more, but we were still able to be efficient, especially in the second half. We were 18-of-31 in the second half and I'm gonna say we probably played with two turnovers," said Miller.

"But we had no answer for them when they had the ball. None."

The game changed around the 13-minute mark of the first half. Jack Nunge was called for his second foul, and moments later, Zach Freemantle picked up his second foul.

While there was a foul discrepancy in the game with Creighton only committing six fouls all game, the Bluejays were clearly the better team.

"Whoever was playing against Creighton today would have had to be at the top of their game and we weren't today," said Miller.

Xavier made a run in the second half and cut Creighton’s lead to 55-49 but the Bluejays responded with a run of their own and put the game away without any resistance.

"We didn't just like not play well today. We lost to a team that was better today, and there's a big difference," said Miller.

Freemantle led Xavier with 18 points. Adam Kunkel and Colby Jones each had 13.

The 67 points were Xavier's fewest since a Nov. 25 loss to Duke in Portland, Oregon.

The Musketeers, now 17-5 overall and 9-2 in the Big East, head back home for a pivotal Wednesday game against Providence, a team that's one game back of Xavier in the conference standings.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Creighton hands No. 13 Xavier a lopsided loss