CINCINNATI (AP) — With the best game of his career, Justin Martin helped Xavier get the better of a much-anticipated rematch.
Martin had 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds on Saturday, and Xavier led most of the way during a 75-69 victory over No. 9 Creighton in front of the largest crowd in the 14-year history of the Musketeers’ arena.
It was a big moment for Xavier, (20-9, 10-6), which lost one of the Big East’s most wide-open games at Creighton in January.
Martin led the way. The junior guard helped Xavier control the tempo and build a 13-point lead early in the second half that was more than enough.
“Aw, I love it,” Martin said. “I love it. I love it. I love it.”
His answer didn’t stop. Neither did Xavier’s wide-open offense, which shot 50 percent from the field and withstood Creighton’s late run. Semaj Christon scored 21 points, Dee Davis added 15, and the Musketeers shot 50 percent from the field.
“In the second half, they made the run and we stuck it out and stayed together,” Christon said. “That’s the biggest part of us.”
Creighton (23-5, 13-3) couldn’t catch up despite 27 points by Doug McDermott, who leads the nation in scoring.
McDermott had 35 points during the Bluejays’ 95-89 win at home on Jan. 12, a game that showed the reconfigured Big East was a whole different conference. Xavier had more going for it in the rematch.
The Bluejays had nearly as many turnovers (15) as assists (17), settling for shots from the perimeter. Creighton took 34 shots from beyond the arc and made only 10.
“We had a couple of forced ones,” McDermott said. “That’s not who we are. We are a team that historically shares the ball. We’ll get back to that. Nothing to worry about here.”
Xavier got its first victory over a top-10 team since it beat No. 8 Indiana 80-65 on Nov. 24, 2007.
Right after their loss at Creighton in January, several Musketeers said they couldn’t wait for the rematch. Xavier sold standing-room tickets for the first time in the Cintas Center’s 14 seasons, resulting in a record crowd of 10,483.
“We want to come out with the same energy we had tonight, especially at home,” Davis said. “With the crowd we had tonight, we can always have energy.”
Xavier led for most of the first half, pushing the lead to six points on several occasions. The Musketeers built it to double-digits with a seven-point run that featured Davis’ 3-pointer and a pair of baskets by Christon, making it 41-30 with 2:22 left in the half.
The Musketeers took a 43-34 lead into halftime despite not shooting a free throw. Instead, the Musketeers shot 57.6 percent from the field and went 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. Martin led the way, getting nine points and matching his career high with 12 rebounds.
Martin came out aggressive again to start the second half. He hit a pair of 3s and Xavier’s first two free throws for a 54-42 lead with 15:49 left. At that point, Xavier was 8 of 10 from beyond the arc, with Creighton more concerned about stopping drives to the basket.
Christon fell down while nearly getting a steal, got up and swiped Creighton’s next pass and was fouled as he headed for the basket, bringing the crowd to its feet. His free throw gave Xavier a 13-point lead.
Creighton couldn’t make any headway as Xavier controlled the boards and pushed the pace for layups. McDermott scored 11 points in the first seven minutes of the half, but nobody else hit any shots consistently.
Xavier finally hit a cold spell, and Creighton took advantage with a 10-2 spurt. McDermott’s fall-away 3-pointer cut it to 61-58 with 5:18 to go, prompting a Xavier timeout.
Davis made an uncontested 3, and Jalen Reynolds drove for a lay-in that rebuilt the lead to 68-60. Creighton never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
Creighton redshirt freshman guard Isaiah Zierden went down hard on a fast-break play in the first half and hurt his right knee. He was on crutches in the second half with ice wrapped on the knee. Zierden averages 11 minutes and 3.3 points.
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