Sophomore Ty-Shon Alexander had just drilled a 3-pointer, stolen a pass and glided in for a thunderous two-handed jam, finally giving Creighton some much-needed breathing room in a tense overtime period.
The crowd was roaring. His teammates were ready to celebrate. Providence coach Ed Cooley was motioning toward a referee to call a timeout.
And Alexander just stood there, glaring.
He had his hands at his side as he stared straight ahead through the frenzy. He looked angry — and he admitted afterward that he was indeed a little fired up.
Providence had bullied its way back into the game on CU’s home floor, wiping away a 16-point second-half deficit, forcing an extra five minutes and putting Creighton’s NCAA tournament at-large chances in serious jeopardy. The Friars were strutting and jawing. They seemed to have the Jays rattled.
But Alexander stepped up in just the right moment to lead Creighton to a 76-70 win — partly because of a message he recently got from his dad.
“My dad was telling me, he said, remember where you were raised,” said Alexander, the Charlotte native. “You have to be mean to play this game. They were kind of trying to push us and shove us around — doing all those things to punk us. I wasn’t about to let that happen.”
The Jays, who’ve blown leads and lost several heartbreakers already this year, probably would have preferred it if Alexander could have made those statement plays a little earlier Wednesday. CU nearly squandered away a win.
Creighton (17-13, 8-9) went ahead 50-34 with 11 minutes left when junior Davion Mintz hit a pull-up jumper from the baseline.
But it managed just seven points over the next nine minutes of action — the Friars (16-14, 6-11) extended their zone defense, increased their activity level and knocked CU out of its rhythm.
The Jays went 1 of 9 from the floor and committed six turnovers during that stretch. Providence took advantage, trimming the deficit to 55-52 when senior Isaiah Jackson nailed a 3-pointer with 2:34 remaining in regulation.
Then came a series of CU mistakes — all in the final 45 seconds.
Alexander missed a free throw that could have completed a key 3-point play. Freshman Marcus Zegarowski missed the front end of a one-and-one. Junior Martin Krampelj got whistled for a foul on Isaiah Jackson’s drive to the rim — his layup and ensuing free throw tied the game at 59-all with 14 seconds left. Mintz couldn’t hit a short jumper in the lane to win the game at the buzzer.
“We knew this was not going to be easy,” coach Greg McDermott said. “We knew they were not going to quit.”
But Creighton didn’t give in, either. It found a way at the end.
The win moved CU into a five-way tie for third place in the Big East standings. It kept the Jays on the NCAA tournament bubble — they’ve now won four in a row, including a victory over then-No. 10 Marquette on Sunday.
Alexander was a big reason Wednesday.
Senior Connor Cashaw set him up for the go-ahead 3-pointer, splitting a double team and driving into the paint before spotting Alexander open on the wing. Alexander had missed his previous four tries from deep — but he made the one that mattered most, putting CU ahead 66-63 with 2:15 left in overtime.
He jumped in the passing lane on Providence’s next possession. The Friars had been careless with perimeter passes all night long, according to Alexander. He just read it, stuck his hand out and then soared to the rim. His dunk made it 68-63 with two minutes left in overtime.
That sequence was the difference Wednesday, according to Cooley.
He gave credit to Alexander, who Cooley said had already earned his vote for the league’s most improved player award.
“That five-point stretch won the game for them,” Cooley said. “The 3. The steal and dunk. Game, set, match.”
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