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Xavier edges Creighton to reach Big East Tournament semifinals

The fourth-seeded Musketeers (18-14) will face top-seeded defending conference champion Villanova in the semifinals Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Xavier forward Ryan Welage reacts after he scores

Xavier forward Ryan Welage reacts after he scores a three-point basket Creighton during a Big East Tournament quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Zach Hankins hit the offensive boards and scored, giving Xavier a two-point edge. There were 21 seconds left in this Big East quarterfinal. Plenty of time for Creighton to attempt to make a tying or winning shot in the Garden.

Coach Greg McDermott chose not to use a timeout. But the Bluejays didn’t run a play very well with the clock dribbling down. So Ty-Shon Alexander, with 21 points behind him, went up to try for three more from the left side with about four seconds remaining. Kyle Castlin went up with him, 6-4 guard vs. 6-4 guard.

“I knew I just had to put it all on the line to seal the game,” Castlin said.

The graduate transfer from Columbia got a hand on the ball. Fourth-seeded Xavier emerged with a 63-61 win over fifth-seeded Creighton Thursday, earning a ticket to the semifinals against top-seeded, two-time defending champ Villanova Friday night at 6:30. The teams split two regular-season games.

“We’ve just got to play as hard as we possibly can, leave it all out there,” Musketeers coach Travis Steele said. “No regrets mentality.”

Hankins made sure there were no regrets in this game for Xavier (18-14), which has won seven of eight after a six-game skid. The 6-11 graduate forward scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

“Zach, to me, is one of the best finishers in the entire country around the rim with his size and length and athleticism,” Steele said.

The Bluejays (18-14) led by nine in the first half. But the Musketeers rallied to take a 45-33 advantage early in the second half before Creighton went on a run and ultimately led 53-52.

“We didn’t have our ‘A’ game, certainly today,” McDermott said. “Xavier’s size and physicality certainly had something to do with that. But we kept fighting.”

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