OMAHA–(CU Athletics Dec. 17)–Clinging to a 56-54 lead with 8:38 remaining in the game, the Bluejay defense clamped down to secure a 79-59 win over No. 9 Villanova on Friday, December 17.
Creighton did not allow a field goal to the Wildcats over the final 8:38, closing the game on a 23-5 run. The win lifted Creighton to 9-3 on the season and 1-0 in BIG EAST action, while three-time defending league champ Villanova fell to 7-4 overall and 0-1 in conference play.
Creighton took an early 4-0 lead by on a layup from freshman Arthur Kaluma and a dunk by Ryan Kalkbrenner, but Villanova responded with eight straight to hold an 8-4 edge with 16:12 remaining. The Bluejays groundwork on the interior began to pay dividends as the collapsing Wildcat defense gave Creighton shooters an extra step of space, the result was a quartet of three-pointers down the stretch of the first half. The balance of offense from beyond the arc and on the interior allowed the Bluejays to take a 39-30 lead into the locker room at the break.
During the opening 20 minutes a combined 14 players hit at least one field goal, including all eight Bluejays that saw the floor.
The second half opened at a frenetic pace as the Wildcats hits their first four shots, but CU continued to sizzle from long range as Alex O’Connell, Ryan Hawkins and Ryan Nembhard each connected. Creighton extended its advantage to double figures at 50-40, courtesy of a driving layup by Nembhard, the Bluejays largest lead of the game to that point.
Down 52-42, Villanova pulled a page from the Bluejays’ playbook by getting the ball into the low block. The result was an 12-4 burst to make it a one possession game as Creighton clung to a 56-54 lead with 8:38 remaining. The Bluejays turned the tide by extending Villanova’s defense, then taking advantage by driving the lane. Creighton converted five consecutive driving layups, then freshman Rati Andronikashvili punctuated a 13-1 run with a three-ball from seven feet beyond the arc as the shot clock was expiring to put the Bluejays up 69-55.
Creighton defense did the rest and CU scored the final eight points of the contest.
Hawkins led all scorers with 19 points, also collecting 11 rebounds to record his 33rd career double-double. Three other Bluejays finished in double figures, getting 14 points from Nembhard, 12 from O’Connell and a season-high 10 points from freshman Trey Alexander. CU made 54.4 percent of its shots from the floor (31-57) and hit 9-of-23 three-pointers (39.1 percent).
Villanova got a team-high 16 points from Collin Gillespie, while Eric Dixon finished with 15 points. and nine rebounds. The Wildcats shot just 21-of-63 from the field (33.3 percent) and were 4-of-23 from downtown (17.4 percent).
The Bluejays are scheduled to return to action on Monday, December 20 as Creighton travels to Chicago to face DePaul at 5:30 pm in Wintrust Arena.