INDIANAPOLIS — Creighton dug itself a hole in the first half and couldn’t fight out of it, losing 71-57 in a defensive battle at No. 11 Butler.
The Bluejays (12-3, 1-1 Big East) had their lowest-scoring half of the season in the first 20 minutes (24 points), falling behind by as many as 13 while shooting 34.5% from the floor. They also missed 12 3-pointers and committed eight turnovers.
They seemed to find their rhythm early in the second half, though. But after CU twice cut the deficit to four, the Bulldogs (14-1, 2-0) responded with a quick 5-0 surge to stretch their lead to 59-50 with 5:22 remaining. Creighton didn’t have an answer after that.
“It’s hard to climb that mountain against Butler’s defense,” coach Greg McDermott said during his postgame press conference.
Butler came into Saturday’s game ranked seventh nationally in defensive efficiency, holding opponents to an average of 0.84 points per possession. And they dictated the flow of the game against CU.
The Jays’ up-tempo attack was neutralized. They were credited with two fastbreak points, a season low.
In the halfcourt, Butler’s lane-plugging, aggressive man-to-man approach often forced Creighton’s offense away from its style. CU finished with seven assists, its lowest total in three years.
Plus, the Jays went 4 of 22 from 3-point range. The four makes matched a season low for a team that entered play ranked 26th nationally at 9.6 made 3s per game.
CU’s shooters had misfired on all six of their long-range tries in the second half before junior Ty-Shon Alexander made one with 16 seconds left.
“There’s a reason why they’re one of the top defensive teams in the country,” McDermott said on his postgame radio show.
Still, Creighton had a chance in front of a soldout crowd at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday.
Junior Denzel Mahoney went to the rim to try to pull CU within two points just ahead of the eight-minute mark in the second half, but his driving layup was blocked. Then Butler senior Kamar Baldwin, who scored all 20 of his points after halftime, nailed a deep 3-pointer as the shot clock buzzer sounded to extend his team’s lead to 53-46.
A few minutes later, Mahoney’s putback made it 54-50. But the Bulldogs scored on their next three trips. And CU managed seven points the rest of the way, turning the ball over four times and going 2 of 7 from the field.
Sophomore Marcus Zegarowski, who led Creighton with 15 points, credited Butler (14-1, 2-0) for its discipline.
“They don’t make mistakes on their own,” Zegarowski said during a radio interview. “They’re just a really solid team on both sides of the floor.”
Maybe a better start might have altered the complexion, McDermott thought.
The Jays missed their first five 3-pointers. They trailed 10-9 after nine minutes but Butler scored on six of its next seven possessions to jump ahead 24-12.
“We had our opportunity early,” McDermott said. “They had that 14-3 run in the middle there, and from that point we were just in an uphill battle the whole game.”
CU will return home Tuesday, when it hosts No. 10 Villanova (10-3, 1-1) for an 8 p.m. tipoff. The Wildcats also lost Saturday, 71-60 at Marquette — the team the Jays beat 92-75 last Wednesday.
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