No. 5 Xavier stays on the road to face Creighton

The Big East is the gift that just keeps giving, and Saturday’s matchup between No. 5 Xavier and Creighton comes with a big red bow as the first-place Musketeers travel to Omaha, Neb., to take on the third-place Bluejays.

The Musketeers (22-3, 10-2 Big East) blew out the Bluejays on Jan. 13 when Trevon Bluiett scored 24 points.

Creighton’s big men, Marin Krampelj and Toby Hegner, both fouled out and the Musketeers dominated the paint with Kerem Kanter and Sean O’Mara combining for 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting.

This time around, Creighton won’t have Krampelj, whose season ended when he tore an ACL against Seton Hall, one game after facing the Musketeers. The Bluejays (18-6, 8-4) sit alone in third place in the Big East and play five of their next six games at CenturyLink Center, a definite advantage.

“We get to be home a lot in February, which is nice,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said. “Our crowds have been great and our fans have been awesome and (that’s what we) need for us to finish this off.”

Creighton is coming off a last-second road win at DePaul. It wasn’t pretty, but the Bluejays will take it.

“Sometimes you’re not going to play your best, especially on the road,” said Tyler Clement, who came off the bench to score six points. “Any time you get a road win, no matter if it’s one point or 30 points, you’ll take it. At the end of the year, it won’t matter how much we won by. We’ll take the win.”

Marcus Foster connected on a 3-pointer after missing two earlier shots in the final minute to give the Bluejays a 76-75 win. The bucket gave Foster 2,000 career points.

“Even though I missed those last two, I just tried to stay confident and make that last one,” Foster told the Omaha World-Herald. “And you know, how my game is, I just think every shot is going in. And that last one went in for me.”

The mentality of a shooter — every shot is going in — could be how Bluiett feels as well. He scored 26 points, including six in overtime, as Xavier defeated Butler on Tuesday on the road. Bluiett, who grew up in nearby Indianapolis, had only six at halftime.

“I’m happy for him,” Xavier coach Chris Mack told The Cincinnati Enquirer afterward. “He’s played here four times. The first three, I’m sure he’d love to wipe from his memory in terms of his individual performance. For him to do it as a senior in front of his family, I’m sure he feels great about that.”

As a freshman, Bluiett scored only nine points in a 12-point loss to Butler. The next year, he scored only 11, and the Musketeers won easily. Last season, Butler won and Bluiett scored only 10 and fouled out.

The personal matchup between Foster and Bluiett will go a long way in determining the outcome. Bluiett averages 19.4/5.6/2.7 per game. Foster counters with averages of 20.3/3.3/2.8.

While Krampelj won’t play for Creighton, Xavier might be without Tyrique Jones, who, with his arm in a sling, watched the game against Butler from the bench.

Kanter and O’Mara picked up the slack, scoring 22 and 14 points, respectively.

Xavier’s path to the conference title is clear after St. John’s upset Villanova earlier this week.

“We’re aware,” Kanter said of what lies ahead. “We want to win the Big East — something that Xavier’s never done before. … We know how good we are. We just have to prove it.”