The Bluejays practice it almost every day: When the opposing player dribbles in the open floor and heads to the basket, swarm to the ball and build a wall at the rim.
Ronnie Harrell thought he did. From Marcus Foster’s vantage point beyond the 3-point line, he saw Creighton’s two big men executing the way they’re taught. Coach Greg McDermott indicated the Bluejays followed the exact plan during the final four seconds that they discussed.
But the whistle blew. With 0.3 seconds left.
Harrell — his hands straight up but his feet moving slightly — was called for a foul.
Did he bump Xavier’s Quentin Goodin enough to warrant a whistle? Did the bullish point guard create the contact first with Harrell, then with senior Toby Hegner, who ended up blocking the shot? Should a referee be making that call just before the final buzzer?
The answer to those questions probably depends on which team one supports.
The fact is, a foul was called.
And Goodin — relishing that moment as a sellout crowd roared in opposition — made the two free throws to put his team in front with less than a second remaining, spoiling Creighton’s upset bid and lifting No. 5 Xavier to a 72-71 victory Saturday afternoon.
“It stings a lot,” McDermott said. “It stings a lot.”
That’s largely because the Jays thought they had done enough to win.
They had fought back after falling behind early, displaying more tenacity and toughness defensively after halftime to keep Xavier from playing through their bigs. Khyri Thomas, CU’s lockdown defender, took the Musketeers’ leading scorer out of the game. Trevon Bluiett finished with a season-low six points , the first time this season he had been held to single digits.
Foster was burying jumpers from deep, creating enough space with screens or pulling up over outstretched arms. He had 29 points , 20 in the second half.
But the Jays went nearly five minutes without a point late, missing seven straight shots until Foster’s 3-pointer cut Xavier’s lead to 66-64 at the 3:19 mark.
Xavier’s relentlessness on the glass plagued Creighton all afternoon, too. The Musketeers had 14 offensive rebounds, a season high for a CU opponent. Four of their last six made shots — including J.P. Macura’s tiebreaking layup with 21 seconds left — came in second-chance situations.
“We made some mistakes along the way that could have been a difference in the game,” McDermott said. “Those are what we have to concentrate on and focus on.”
That was the message from CU’s players afterward.
You can’t dwell in the disappointment. Forget the officiating. The Jays have work to do — five regular-season games still remain.
“Just keep moving forward. That’s all we can do,” Foster said. “When you think about a game like this that you really wanted to win, and just keeping sitting on it — that’s how you lose more games.”
Still, it’s hard to ignore how close Creighton came to picking up its biggest win of the year. Foster’s leakout dunk and sophomore Davion Mintz’s two free throws helped CU tie it 68-68 with 1:13 left. Macura silenced the crowd with his go-ahead putback.
Then the Jays got their own benefit of a foul call — Harrell misfired on a 3-pointer, but the refs called a foul, presumably Bluiett’s hitting him on the arm. A touch foul. With four seconds left.
Harrell made all three foul shots, getting a raucous scream from the CenturyLink Center crowd after each one. That put CU ahead 71-70.
Xavier’s only play was to give the ball to Goodin. It had to go the full length of the court. Coach Chris Mack told him to go to work.
Goodin sprinted around a screen, caught the inbounds pass and dribbled by two defenders.
What happened next? Well, that depends on one’s point of view.
“A lot of times you don’t get that call. We were fortunate. I think it was a foul,” Mack said. “I’m going to have 17,000 fans disagree with me, so I understand how that works.”
Goodin said there was contact. He knew there would be.
It was what the staff had told him to do all game. CU’s defensive plan gave him extra space. He ended up leading the Musketeers with a season-high 17 points. The last two clinched Saturday’s thriller.
Goodin smiled and shook his head after he made the foul shots. He and sophomore Tyrique Jones went through a handshake routine once the final buzzer sounded. He got mobbed by teammates and doused with water as he entered the locker room.
Was it a foul? Goodin didn’t consider that. He just had to step up and take advantage of the opportunity.
“I feel like that’s every kid’s dream,” Goodin said. “Everybody wants to be in that situation. On the road. Your free throws can be game winners. I don’t think it gets any better than that.”