Creighton falls to Xavier in Big East tourney, puts NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy

Creighton falls to Xavier in Big East tourney, puts NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy
Creighton squared off with Xavier in its opening game of the Big East tournament. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK CITY — Creighton couldn’t complete a second-half comeback against Xavier in the Big East tournament quarterfinals Thursday. It lost 63-61 after a tip-in in the final minute and likely fell out of the NCAA tournament at-large conversation.

The Jays (18-14), who trailed by as many as 12 points shortly after halftime, tied the game 50-50 when freshman Marcus Zegarowski converted a layup with 6:23 left. The Musketeers (18-14) answered right back with an 8-0 spurt, but Creighton rallied again.

Sophomores Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock made back-to-back 3-pointers. Alexander’s jumper tied the game 61-61 with 51 seconds left at Madison Square Garden.

But Xavier’s Zach Hankins, who finished with a game-high 22 points, tipped in a missed shot. That proved to be the go-ahead bucket with 21 seconds left.

The Jays did have a chance to tie or win at the end. They could have tried to extend the game, too. But their final possession stalled and Alexander’s 3-pointer was blocked as the final buzzer sounded.

The loss was CU’s first since Feb. 17. It snapped a five-game winning streak. And it likely sent Creighton to the NIT.

Heading into Thursday, the Jays were viewed by most analysts as an NCAA bubble team with work to do. CU needed, at the very least, to beat Xavier to keep its at-large chances intact. That didn’t happen.

Creighton did have some chances to seize control before the end, though.

Xavier went nearly nine minutes without a field goal midway through the second half, managing just one free throw during that stretch. Creighton pulled within three points with 11 minutes left — and it had four straight possessions to get closer. The Jays missed two free throws and all five of their field goal attempts — two of the jumpers were blocked as the shot-clock buzzer sounded.

CU did rally eventually, but it ultimately ran out of time.

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