Xavier wasn’t going to give up open jumpers to one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, a strategy most of Creighton’s opponents have been trying to implement recently.
The Bluejays just haven’t always found a reliable counterattack — until Sunday.
Junior Martin Krampelj used a blend of patience and power to match his career-high with 23 points. And when he wasn’t bulling his way to the rim for buckets, the aggressive CU guards were dribbling into the paint instead.
Creighton (13-9, 4-5 Big East) matched its season low with 15 3-point attempts but shot 58.3 percent from the floor in a 76-54 victory over a reeling Xavier squad Sunday at CHI Health Center. The win vaulted Creighton into a tie for third in the Big East.
“It’s obviously a different look for us,” sophomore Mitch Ballock said. “This game, we took advantage of mismatches. We threw it in and we just went to work inside-out. We went to what was working.”
And Krampelj had it going.
He converted a three-point play against a shorter defender on Creighton’s fifth possession of the game. Moments later, he scored six straight points — two free throws, a lob dunk and a post-up bucket.
Even after Xavier (11-12, 3-7) adjusted its defense after halftime and stopped switching on all ball screens, Krampelj found his way to the hoop.
He pump-faked and drove down the middle of the lane for a layup just before the shot-clock buzzer midway through the second half. That ignited a 9-0 run after the Musketeers had twice pulled within eight points soon after the break.
Krampelj, who went 8 of 11 from the field and 7 of 7 at the foul line, added another post bucket two possessions later. Ballock made a 3-pointer and knocked down two free throws after he was fouled in transition, bumping CU’s lead 63-45 with 8:22 left.
“We kind of took what Xavier gave us,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
The Jays haven’t always done that.
St. John’s extended its perimeter defense and tried to take away deep looks Wednesday. Creighton still took more than half its shots from behind the arc.
McDermott continued to encourage his players to take open 3s. He’ll always do that. After all, the Jays came into Sunday fourth nationally in 3-point shooting 41.7 percent. Only two teams were making more 3s per game than Creighton (11.8).
But CU needed to look for other ways to score, too, McDermott said.
The Jays did that Sunday.
Nine minutes ticked off the clock before they tried their first 3-pointer. Instead, they delivered the ball to Krampelj for post-ups and drew fouls as they drove into the lane. They even missed a couple of layups, which could have made them even more efficient.
Xavier coach Travis Steele thought things were just too easy for the Jays. He indicated that the Musketeers, who have lost five in a row, have some soul searching to do. They’ll play Creighton again in 10 days.
“It starts with effort,” Steele said. “Our guys had no juice to start the game. … There’s no excuse for that.”
Creighton, on the other hand, was active and energetic all afternoon.
The Jays forced 19 turnovers, matching the season high for an opponent this year. They beat Xavier’s players to the floor for loose balls several times. They cut off driving lanes and sprinted out to shooters — the Musketeers made 42.9 percent of their attempts.
Xavier didn’t score for the final four minutes of the first half, allowing CU to push its lead to 41-26 at the break.
“We just talked about having a different mentality coming in, and just executing the game plan we put in place,” Ballock said.
Marcus Zegarowski out indefinitely after breaking hand in Jays’ win over Xavier
Creighton announced Sunday that freshman Marcus Zegarowski is out indefinitely with a broken bone in his right hand. Zegarowski suffered a fifth metacarpal fracture in his hand during Sunday’s 76-54 win over Xavier. He will be evaluated again during the week.
Presumably, the Jays’ medical staff will have to decide whether it’s safe for Zegarowski to play through pain or if there will be a longer recovery process, possibly requiring surgery. If Zegarowski can go, he will, McDermott said.
“You’d have to cut his hand off for him not to play,” McDermott said after the game. “We were going to shut him down at halftime, but we talked with him and actually had his folks come (to the locker room). They’re some tough, hard-nosed people.”
Zegarowski showed that Sunday. He scored 13 points despite injuring the hand early in the first half. He grimaced at times during the action and didn’t warm up with the team after halftime. But Zegarowski returned to the game with his right hand heavily wrapped — and played 12 minutes in the second half.
Without Zegarowski, Creighton could have seven top-rotation players available when it begins a three-game road swing with a trip to No. 14 Villanova on Wednesday.
Senior Connor Cashaw (shoulder) and sophomore Damien Jefferson (ankle) did not play Sunday.
Cashaw, who hurt his shoulder against St. John’s on Wednesday, is not expected to miss an extended time but hasn’t returned to practice yet. Jefferson is just over two weeks removed from surgery.