Creighton upsets fifth-ranked Xavier behind Maurice Watson’s 32 points

OMAHA, Neb. — Creighton 7-footer Geoffrey Groselle couldn’t help but admire the show Maurice Watson put on against Xavier.

The Bluejays’ undersized point guard roamed all game in the land of the giants, making shifty moves that rendered Xavier’s big men helpless as he snaked to the basket for layup after layup Tuesday night.

When it was over, the 5-foot-10 Watson had a career-high 32 points and had led Creighton to its biggest win of the season, 70-56 over the fifth-ranked Musketeers.

"It’s a spectacle to watch him being such a short point guard going in and finishing against the big guys," Groselle said.

Xavier coach Chris Mack said, "He’s as good as we’ve played against all year. He completely dominated and controlled the game."

The Bluejays (16-9, 7-5 Big East) used an early 16-0 run to take a 17-point lead nine minutes into the game and then held off the Musketeers after they pulled within five with six minutes left.

Watson scored 22 points in the second half, and the transfer from Boston University finished off the Musketeers with a bank-in high off the glass, a layup and then a steal and layup to make it 66-53 with 1:54 to play.

"Coach Mac and Creighton took a chance on me when I decided to transfer, and we put in a lot of work on my year off," Watson said. "To see it pay off and see everyone have so much faith in me, it kind of makes me a little emotional."

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Xavier (21-3, 9-3) received 17 points from Jalen Reynolds and 14 from James Farr, but emerging star Trevon Bluiett was held to four points. The Musketeers’ five-game winning streak ended as they shot a season-worst 30 percent from the field, including 1 of 21 from 3-point range. They scored on just two of their first 16 possessions.

"I really felt like there was no readiness to play on our part," Mack said.

Creighton led 47-29 when Watson, a full foot shorter than the 6-10 Farr, took him to the hole for a left-handed layup.

Xavier at that point went from man-to-man defense to a 1-3-1 zone, and the Bluejays missed seven shots in a row and committed a turnover as the Musketeers trimmed the lead to 10. The zone flummoxed the Bluejays until Watson drove the lane for an easy basket to make it 50-38.

"It’s not easy attacking that 1-3-1 with their length and size," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, "and he was able to get in some crevices."

It was 55-50 with six minutes left, but Creighton was ahead by 10 points again when Watson swished a jumper from the top of the key and Cole Huff hit a 3 from the corner.

About the only mistakes Watson made came in the second half when he passed too high on an alley-oop pass to Zach Hanson and the ball sailed out of bounds and when he shot a woeful airball. He left to a standing ovation with 32 seconds left. He had seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.

The Bluejays were without guard Khyri Thomas, who had an undisclosed injury. James Milliken started in his place and gave his team an immediate spark, scoring seven of Creighton’s first 16 points.

Milliken’s 3-pointer started the 16-0 run that put the Bluejays up 21-4.

"We wanted to be playing meaningful games in February that have postseason implications and tonight was one of those," McDermott said. "If we lose tonight, Saturday’s game (at Marquette) doesn’t mean as much. We won a game that mattered, and that makes the next few games matter, so we have to try to build on what was a great win tonight."

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Mack couldn’t understand why it took so long for his team, which trailed by 17 points early, to show signs of life.

"We didn’t play with the urgency we needed to from minute one," he said. "Why is the game more important when you’re down 17 points?"

TIP-INS

Xavier: Musketeers are 9-2 away from Cintas Center and 6-2 in true road games. … Have allowed an average of 66.7 points in their 21 wins compared with 88.0 in its two losses. … Bluiett had scored in double figures in 22 of the previous 23 games. … Came in having made more free throws (449) than opponents have attempts (436).

Creighton: Entered 1-5 against Top 25 opponents this season and 3-28 all time against top-five opponents. … Isaiah Zierden has made at least one 3-pointer in 13 consecutive games.

UP NEXT

Xavier: Visits Butler on Saturday.

Creighton: Visits Marquette on Saturday.