CINCINNATI (AP)—In the first seven games, Xavier point guard Drew Lavender figured out who had the shooting touch and passed him the ball.
“It all depends on who’s hot,” Lavender said.
In a long-awaited game, no one was hotter.
Lavender scored 17 points in a tone-setting first half Wednesday night, and No. 21 Xavier used another balanced, blink-of-an-eye run to set up a 79-66 victory over previously undefeated Creighton.
The Musketeers (7-1) won their sixth in a row behind their 5-foot-7 point guard, who had been limited to directing their high-powered offense in the early going. Given a chance to shoot, he showed he hasn’t lost his touch.
He was the first Xavier player to finish in double figures with points and assists since David West had a triple-double in December 2001.
“In my opinion, it’s an easy call that very few point guards in the country are better than him,” coach Sean Miller said. “It reminded me a little bit of how I felt when David West played and every once in a while you’d win a game because you had the best player in the gym.”
Lavender dribbled through every full-court press that Creighton (5-1) threw at him, then made shots or passed for an easy basket. He finished with a season-high 28 points and a career-high 10 assists.
“It’s incredible,” said B.J. Raymond, who had 15 points. “He makes the game easy. All you simply have to do is run and he’ll find you. Drew does all the work for you. All you’ve got to do is finish it.”
With the score tied at 25, Lavender got it started. He hit a 3-pointer, a floating jumper and a fastbreak layup after stripping guard Cavel Witter at midcourt, highlighting a 14-2 spurt.
He also had a driving bank shot high off the backboard and a pair of assists in an 8-0 run that put Xavier up 47-29 late in the first half, stunning a Bluejays defense that doesn’t give up many more points in a full game.
“We did a poor job of containing him and his quickness,” Creighton coach Dana Altman said. “He really gave us some fits. He didn’t do much wrong, especially in that first half.”
Creighton came in allowing an average of only 54 per game, seventh-best in the country. No one had scored more than 62 against the Bluejays this season. Xavier topped that mark with 9:39 left in the game.
Creighton went on a 14-4 run and cut the lead to 65-56 on P’Allen Stinnett’s driving layup with 5:15 to go, a spurt that included two of Lavender’s three turnovers. Lavender’s fastbreak layup capped a six-point run that blunted the comeback. Stinnett led Creighton with 12.
Creighton players clasped their hands and dropped their heads during a moment of silence before pregame introductions to remember victims of a mall shooting in Omaha, Neb., where the Bluejays’ campus is located.
The team learned about the shooting while watching film before the game. None of the players had a relative or friend involved.
“It’s a tragedy,” Altman said. “I’m sure when we get back to town it will hit us a lot harder.”
A problem with the overhead lights delayed the tip-off for 20 minutes. Players passed the time by stretching and shooting on the dimly lit court.
Xavier had been looking forward to the tip-off for a long time, viewing it as a measuring stick as well as a chance to settle a few old scores. Creighton won the last three games between the teams by a total of nine points. All three times, the Musketeers thought they were an up-and-coming team, but wound up getting their comeuppance.
Leading up to this one, Miller acknowledged that the Bluejays had imposed their will in those recent games. His message: Don’t let them do it again.
This time, the smallest player on the floor imposed his will. Lavender had season highs in points (17) and assists (seven) in the first half alone.
It also was a good early test for Creighton, which returns only one starter from a team that went 22-11, won the Missouri Valley and lost to Nevada in overtime during the NCAA tournament.
“Our inexperience showed at times,” Altman said. “In the first half, they kind of got whatever they wanted. We didn’t put up much resistance on defense.”