Creighton has home winning-streak snapped in loss to No. 16 Villanova

The Jays scored seven points during the game’s final eight minutes, including a last-second layup by Marcus Zegarowski.

The Jays were playing right into Villanova’s hands, and there wasn’t anything they could do about it.

Sure, they built a double-digit lead, dazzling the crowd with skillful drives and artful at-the-rim finishes.

And yes, they defended. Boy, did they defend. Switching, and rotating, and doubling, and battling all of the longer and stronger Wildcats until the shot went up. Once in the second half the shot-clock buzzer sounded and you could barely hear it courtside as the arena roared in appreciation for CU’s effort. Villanova coach Jay Wright even had to burn two timeouts Tuesday — he got T’ed up, too.

But Creighton couldn’t put together a decisive run.

No. 16 Villanova didn’t seem to mind lurking, either, while the Jays had their fun. In fact, it’s how the reigning Big East champs have often thrived as the juggernauts of this league.

When it mattered most, the Wildcats (11-3, 2-1) seized control in a 64-59 victory at the CHI Health Center, snapping Creighton’s 15-game home winning streak and stunning a CU squad that temporarily seemed poised for its biggest milestone win of the year.

“That’s what we do,” junior Collin Gillespie said. “That’s Villanova basketball.”

The emphatic reminder came at the Jays’ expense.

Creighton (12-4, 1-2), which led by as many as 14 points in the first half, went up 47-37 with 11:08 remaining in the game. But Villanova, almost suddenly, elevated its play from there.

The Wildcats scored 27 points on their final 17 possessions Tuesday night. There was a stretch where they made four straight shots, turning a four-point deficit into a 60-57 lead with two minutes left.

Junior Mitch Ballock did hit a 3-pointer during that span, which briefly put CU ahead 57-55. But sophomore Saddiq Bey answered right back by drilling a contested triple on his team’s next trip down the floor.

“Villanova’s never been a team to beat themselves,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It’s like death by paper cut, after paper cut, after paper cut — and finally you bleed to death.”

The Wildcats definitely made it tough on Creighton’s offense all night.

Even in the first half, when the Jays shot 48.1% from the floor, they never seemed to find their patented run-and-gun rhythm. The Wildcats took away the 3-point looks and neutralized CU’s transition game. Creighton did at times create a quality shot on the interior, but its possessions were long and arduous.

When there were open looks from 3-point range — and there weren’t many — they didn’t fall. CU made just three from long range, its lowest single-game total in three years.

“They were really sound on defense,” Marcus Zegarowski said. “They knew what to take away.”

The Jays did find other options, at times. Sophomore Christian Bishop had 16 points, including seven straight during one stretch in the second half. It was 52-44 after his and-1 with 8:22 remaining.

But there were two turnovers by the Jays on the next two possessions — CU had seven giveaways in the second half after committing only two in the first 20 minutes. There was a missed dunk try. An open 3-pointer in the corner didn’t fall.

Villanova picked up 10 second-chance points after halftime, too (four before the break). It sealed its win when freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl rose up for an offensive rebound following a missed 3-point try in a 60-57 game with less than 30 seconds left.

Those are the plays you think about after a game like that, according to McDermott. The subtle elements of the game. The things that Villanova’s so good at.

That’s what makes the difference against the elite.

“If we aspire to be one of those teams, there’s just a few little things that we’ve got to do better,” McDermott said.

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