CINCINNATI — Paul Scruggs scored 23 points and Zach Freemantle added 17, helping Xavier bolster its NCAA Tournament hopes with a 77-69 victory over No. 13 Creighton on Saturday.
Freemantle also had 10 rebounds for Xavier (13-5, 6-5) for his fifth straight double-double. The Musketeers led by as many as 13 points and staved off a late comeback by Creighton.
Damien Jefferson led Creighton (17-6, 13-5 Big East) with 19 points, and Marcus Zegarowski had 15. Mitch Ballock and Denzel Mahoney each had 11 points for the Bluejays, whose four-game winning streak was snapped.
The Musketeers got off to a strong start as Freemantle’s 3-pointer capped a 12-0 run to put Xavier ahead 25-16.
Creighton took advantage of a four-minute scoring drought by the Musketeers with a 9-0 run, finished off by Jefferson’s 3-pointer to tie it.
Xavier took a 33-31 lead into halftime with Scruggs’ 11 points leading the way.
When Creighton defeated the Musketeers 66-61 in Omaha in December, both teams shot poorly.
Things heated up in the second half Saturday with the teams combining to hit eight of nine field goal attempts.
But it was the Musketeers who took full advantage with a 10-0 run early in the second half.
Adam Kunkel hit back-to-back 3-pointers giving the Musketeers an 11-point lead, their largest lead to that point. Kunkel finished with 12 points.
Dwon Odom’s drive and layup put Xavier ahead 61-50 with 7:53 left. Odom also scored 12 points.
Ballock’s 3-pointer, his third of the night, cut the Bluejays’ deficit to three with two minutes left. But the Musketeers held on.
Creighton: The Bluejays always are tough to beat in Omaha, but this season they have been equally dominant on the road. Saturday’s loss left them one shy of a program-record eighth conference road win. Creighton is 7-2 in the league away from the CHI Health Center.
Xavier: As if three interruptions due to COVID-19 didn’t cause enough issues for the Musketeers, the loss of senior guard Nate Johnson to a left leg injury left them without their third-leading scorer and one of the top 3-point shooters in the country. Johnson participated in Senior Day festivities before Saturday’s game wearing a walking boot.