Creighton-Xavier Preview (Jan 16, 2017)
CINCINNATI -- The Xavier Musketeers are in the midst of the toughest three-game stretch in program history. They are hoping to salvage one of them.
The 22nd-ranked Musketeers were routed 79-54 earlier in the week at newly No. 1-ranked Villanova before losing 83-78 on Saturday at then-No. 12 Butler.
In both of those games, Xavier played well in the first half before crumbling at halftime. The Musketeers led by six points at halftime at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
"I'm happy that we didn't completely melt and cave like we did at Villanova," Xavier head coach Chris Mack told the Cincinnati Enquirer following the Butler loss. "But there are some things to be unhappy about. The fact that when it kept going back and forth ... we couldn't get a stop."
Next up for the Musketeers is No. 7 Creighton on Monday afternoon as part of the Big East Conference's Martin Luther King Day marathon. It's the highest ranking ever for the Bluejays, who have established themselves as a legitimate contender for the Big East title.
Among the key questions for Xavier going into Monday's matinee is the condition of point guard Edmond Sumner, who injured his shoulder in the final second of the loss at Butler. Sumner wore tape on his right shoulder throughout the game then hurt it again during a collision with a Villanova player.
"He's in some pain," Mack said. "I think he'll be fine. I asked (athletic trainer David) Fluker. ... He's in some pain. That's about all I have."
Sumner overcame a slow start on Saturday before finishing strong with 22 points on 12 of 13 from the free-throw line. He also had three assists in the loss.
If Xavier is going to snap its two-game losing streak, it needs more production from junior guard Trevon Bluiett who leads the team with 16.8 points per game but was a combined 4-of-20 shooting in the losses at Villanova and Butler.
Xavier (13-4, 3-2 Big East) will need Sumner healthy and Bluiett producing against a Creighton squad which is led by one of the top guards in the nation in Maurice Watson Jr., who had six assists on Saturday giving him 388 for his career, tied for ninth in school history.
Creighton (17-1, 4-1 Big East) stepped away from Big East play on Saturday, beating Division II Truman State 101-69 to match its best start in program history. It's the most wins to start a season with one or fewer losses since 2012-13.
The Bluejays are hoping to get senior center Zach Hanson back by February. He has been out since having foot surgery last month. Hanson has removed his protective boot and worked out on the court prior to Saturday's game against Truman State. Hanson was averaging eight points per game prior to the injury.
"It's going to be a matter of how it reacts as we stress it more," said Creighton head coach Greg McDermott. "We don't want to bring him back too early."
Xavier leads the series 12-10, but it has been hotly contested since the teams joined the Big East. The Musketeers and Bluejays split last season's series with XU winning 98-93 at Cintas Center and Creighton rolling to a 70-56 win at home earlier in the season.
Since joining the Big East, Creighton has won four of seven meetings, including winning once at Cintas Center.