CREIGHTON 65, MARQUETTE 62
MILWAUKEE — James Milliken could not have found a better time to make his first 3-pointer of the night.
Milliken's open jumper from straight out top with 1:04 left lifted Creighton to a 65-62 victory over Marquette on Saturday night.
The win helped the Bluejays (17-9, 8-5 Big East) continue a run of important late-season victories as they scramble for what they hope will be an NCAA tournament bid.
Milliken's 3 gave the Bluejays a 63-62 lead. After Marquette's Traci Carter missed on a contested drive with 37 seconds left, CU guard Maurice Watson grabbed the rebound and the Bluejays ran the clock down. Watson missed on a drive, but center Geoff Groselle tipped the ball out to Isaiah Zierden, who was fouled with 7.2 seconds remaining.
Although he was 0 for 6 from the field, the junior made the two clutch free throws. After a timeout, Marquette's Duane Wilson could muster only a strongly contested 3-point attempt that didn't come close.
Watson led Creighton with 18 points and 10 assists — none bigger than the last one to Milliken.
Despite being just 3 for 9 and 0 for 4 on 3-pointers, Milliken never hesitated on the big shot.
"In the huddle on our last timeout, I told Maurice, 'The next pass you give me, I'm going to knock it down,'" Milliken said. "My last two threes had rattled in and out and I felt comfortable. Coach always stresses, 'Keep shooting, keep your confidence.' He found me at the top of the key, and it's one of the easier shots in the game."
There appeared to be a defensive breakdown for Marquette (16-10, 5-8), which had just one defender between Watson and Milliken. Watson drew the defender, and Milliken had plenty of time to load up the winner.
Watson knew Milliken was having a rough shooting night, but he remembered Milliken's vow from the timeout huddle.
"I was open, and I was going to shoot it," Watson said. "But I said, 'You know what? I trust him.' "
Watson's trust paid off, and the Bluejays have a three-game winning streak as a reward.
Now it's on to a game Tuesday night at Butler.
"We had to dig down and show that we really want to be successful this season," Watson said. "Each game means something now as we try to play our way into the tournament."
Maybe even more important, the Bluejays showed they can win when things aren't flowing their way.
"We haven't been in many close games this year, and when we have, we've come up short," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "But tonight, (Toby) Hegner hits a big 3-pointer to tie it (at 58). Obviously, Milliken hits a big 3 to give us the lead. Watson and Zierden hit their free throws; Geoff Groselle has a big tip-out to give us a big possession."
Watson also noticed the grit. "That's a big improvement for us because we tend to not play our game if we're fatigued or our shots aren't going in," Watson said. "When we face some adversity, we've tended to fall apart a little bit. But tonight we banded together as brothers. That's what we've been trying to do."
The Bluejays jumped to a 15-5 lead, the final six points coming on a pair of 3-pointers by junior forward Cole Huff. The last of those prompted a Marquette timeout with 12:09 left in the half.
At that point, Bluejay defenders had held Marquette to 2-of-9 shooting and forced six turnovers.
Out of the timeout, Marquette answered with a 12-0 run. Freshman Henry Ellenson (16 points) scored the first bucket and the last two of the run.
Creighton cooled off significantly after the big start, making just 3 of its next 18.
Still, Marquette helped Creighton stay in the game by committing 11 turnovers and missing half of eight free throws. CU forward Zach Hanson finally scored inside, and a short banker by Watson with 48 seconds left pulled the Bluejays even at 25 for the half.
Neither team led by more than five in the second half before the Bluejays won down the stretch.
Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski was disappointed his team couldn't close the deal with the lead and the ball in the final two minutes.
"We're up two, we called a timeout to get a side out of bounds to try to set up a play for Luke (Fischer) or Henry and we don't run it," Wojciechowski said. "We don't even attempt to run it, so we don't get a shot and they get a transition opportunity. We don't talk in transition. After three passes we still don't have matchups. And Milliken hits a 3 and that's the game."