No. 15 Xavier beats No. 24 Creighton 82-60 in Big East semis
By RALPH D. RUSSO
NEW YORK (AP) Back in late January, Xavier point guard Souley Boum scored a season-low two points in a loss at Creighton and was undeniably outplayed by his counterpart, Ryan Nembhard.
Boum turned it around Friday night, scoring 23 points and playing lock-down defense as No. 15 Xavier cruised into the Big East championship game with an 82-60 victory against No. 24 Creighton.
“I definitely had that memory in my mind,” Boum said. “It’s March. I know I had to show up for us to win, and I kind of took that personal.”
Coach Sean Miller’s second-seeded Musketeers (25-8) will face top-seeded and sixth-ranked Marquette (27-6) on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in a matchup of teams looking for their first Big East Tournament title.
Nembhard managed just five points on 2-for-12 shooting after nearly getting a tripe-double in Creighton's Jan. 28 victory against the Musketeers.
“Souley had a lot to do with that,” Miller said. “He really gave tremendous effort on that end.”
It will be the 10th time the top two seeds square off for the Big East Tournament championship and first since 2004.
Xavier has played in the final just once since joining the conference in 2013-14, losing to Villanova in 2015.
The Musketeers seemed to have the smallest contingent of fans at The Garden on semifinal night, but they practically had the place to themselves to celebrate as the clock wound down on a decisive victory.
Jack Nunge scored 17 points for Xavier and needed a few stitches below his lip at halftime after taking a shot to the mouth. Colby Jones added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Boum, a first-team AP all-Big East selection, made a 3-pointer from the wing with 13:55 left to increase the lead to 18, and third-seeded Creighton (21-12) couldn't get enough stops to make a run.
“Last time we played them, I didn’t do a good job,” Boum said. “(Nembhard) was able to get over the screens. I wasn’t able to get looks or make plays. This game, I made sure I did that. It worked for me and my teammates.”
Xavier shot 52% in the second half and 47% for the game.
“We really were locked in, both on defense and offense,” Miller said. “Certainly one of our, probably our best performances of the season.”
Ryan Kalkbrenner led Creighton with 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting. The rest of the Bluejays went 14 for 49 from the field.
“Really from the jump, they had us out of rhythm offensively and forced us into some uncharacteristic turnovers,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said.
Creighton was looking for its third straight Big East championship game appearance and fifth overall. The Bluejays have yet to win the conference tournament since joining the league in 2013-14.
Miller, in the first season of his second stint as Xavier coach, has the Musketeers in position to win their first conference tournament title since his last run at the Cincinnati school. Xavier won the Atlantic 10 Tournament in 2006.
Miller spent 12 seasons at Arizona before parting ways with the school after the 2020-21 season amid an NCAA investigation related to the FBI's case on college basketball recruiting corruption. Miller was never sanctioned by the NCAA.
After a season away from coaching, he returned to Xavier.
Miller inherited a veteran team and led it to program-high 15 Big East wins in the regular season. The former Pitt point guard never reached the Big East title game as a player.
“There is a big difference between advancing in the tournament and just playing in it,” Miller said. “As a player, that’s what I did, I played in the Big East Tournament. You’re playing for the championship. That’s more sacred ground.”
The Musketeers needed a late comeback to beat 10th-seeded DePaul in the quarterfinals Thursday. But against Creighton, Xavier led almost start to finish.
Xavier built 40-26 lead at halftime, turning 11 Creighton turnovers into 17 points.
Boum scored eight straight for the Musketeers during one stretch, with consecutive 3s upping the lead to 12.
“He just got some good looks early. Felt like he saw the ball go in early, and it grew his confidence," Nembhard said.
Creighton: The Bluejays don't have much depth and have a hard time overcoming a bad game by one of their solid starting five.
Xavier: The Musketeers improved to 8-3 since forward Zach Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder, went out with a season-ending left foot injury. The 6-foot-9 senior ranks third on the team in scoring at 15.2 points per game. The three losses were by a combined four points, including a 69-68 defeat at Marquette.
Creighton: The Bluejays are in good shape to make the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season.
Xavier: The Musketeers split with Marquette this season in two games decided by a combined five points.
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Updated March 11, 2023