The Creighton Bluejays defeated the Villanova Wildcats 76-61 Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center, handing the ‘Cats their first loss in nearly a full month. With this defeat, the Wildcats move to 17-4 overall and 7-2 in the Big East. The Bluejays improve to 17-5 overall and 6-3 in the Big East, extending their win streak to 4 games.
“Creighton deserves a lot of credit. They just came in here and played a better basketball game, and I’ve been saying this all year: Every game in this league is going to be a battle, and if you don't play your best you’re going to get beat,” said Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright when asked about the defeat. “We weren’t that bad, they just really played well.”
The Bluejays’ offense was hot from the start, quickly building an 11-5 lead with an 8-0 run fueled by a pair of threes from junior guards Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock. This barrage from behind the arc would be a constant trend throughout the rest of the contest, as Alexander and Ballock would combine for a staggering 11/13 from three by the final buzzer.
While the Bluejays lit up the scoreboard early, the Wildcats’ offense struggled to find its footing all throughout the first half. With three minutes left in the first half, Villanova had put up a dismal total of 14 points, while the Bluejays had scored 31 points, giving Creighton a 17 point advantage; Their largest lead of the contest.
The lone bright spot in the first half for the Wildcats was freshman guard Justin Moore, who helped cut the Creighton lead down to 12 at the half by scoring 7 of the Cat’s last 11 points before the break. Moore scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting from the field in the first half, while all other Wildcats combined for 13 points on 6-21 shooting from the field.
The Bluejays led the Wildcats at the half by a score of 35-23.
The Villanova offense erupted early in the second half, powered by junior guard Collin Gillespie as he quickly scored 9 points in the first five minutes of the half. Gillespie nailed a mid-range jumper with 15 minutes left in the contest to bring the ballgame within two possessions. The junior point guard finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists, improving on his strong season in which he leads the 17-4 Wildcats in PPG, APG, and SPG (15.2, 4.7, 1.4).
The Wildcats continued their exciting comeback bid, as Gillespie sank a transition layup to bring the score to 48-51 with 10 minutes left in the game, after an excellent defensive effort by freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl on Ballock. Creighton Head Coach Greg McDermott immediately called a timeout after the Bluejays lead was cut to one possession, and his defensive adjustments would prove to plague the ‘Cats for the remainder of the contest.
Villanova only scored 5 times on their last 20 offensive possessions, while the Creighton offense kicked into high gear. A brutal 9-0 run late in the second half increased the Bluejays’ commanding lead. Ballock supplied the finishing blow, nailing a tightly contested baseline three with mere seconds left on the shot clock to extend the lead once again to double digits.
“In the second half I thought Ballock made some really tough shots, I mean the corner three he hit on the baseline, he’s literally behind the backboard falling out of bounds,” said Coach Wright of the huge shot.
Creighton continued to build its lead in the final minutes of the contest after a flurry of free throws. The final score of the game was 76-61, in favor of the Bluejays.
The game was truly decided by the deep ball, as Creighton shot 11-22 (50%) from three, while the Wildcats shot only 7-26 (27%). In all four of Villanova’s losses this season, the Wildcats have shot under 35% from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats will look to bounce back from this disappointing defeat when they take on the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Wednesday, Feb. 5th at 6:30 p.m.