NEW YORK, N. Y. — A 9-0 run down the stretch helped second-seeded and 17th-ranked Creighton beat third-seeded Connecticut, 59-56, on Friday night at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals of the BIG EAST Tournament.
With the win, Creighton advances to Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. Central final vs. eighth-seeded Georgetown that will be televised nationally on FOX.
The Bluejays fell behind 13-2 in the first five minutes as UConn big man Adama Sanogo scored eight pionts and the Jays missed 9-of-10 shots to start the contest, only to rally with a 7-0 run to get back into the game. Creighton tied the game for the first time at 19-all on a rare basket in the paint from sharpshooter Mitch Ballock. The Bluejays went ahead for the first time with just over two minutes left in the half on a trey by Marcus Zegarowski to make it 25-24. That triggered an 8-0 run to put CU up 30-24, and helped the Bluejays take a 30-26 lead into the half.
Christian Bishop led CU with eight points while Damien Jefferson added seven points and a team-best six rebounds before the break. UConn was led by Sanogo’s eight pionts in seven minutes after the All-Freshman Team rep picked up his second foul with 8:47 left in the first half. UConn was 0-for-5 in the first half from deep and lost the rebound battle to Creighton, 23-14.
Back on the floor to start the second half, Sanogo scored three points as part of a 6-2 run to tie the game at 32. Five points from Sixth Man Award recipient Tyler Polley gave UConn a 48-43 lead, but the Jays answered to tie the score before a three-point play by James Bouknight put UConn ahead 51-48. Bouknight then made two more foul shots with 5:44 left to put the Huskies ahead 53-48. CU answered with a Zegarowski hoop before a tying three-pointer from Jefferson at the 3:58 mark from the top of the key.
CU then took a 55-53 lead on a hoop inside by Bishop and were ahead 57-53 with 2:36 left on a pull-up jumper by Zegarowski.
Bouknight was fouled with 30.8 left and made both to trim CU’s lead to one and the Huskies would foul Mitch Ballock with 20.4 left. The Bluejay senior sank both free throws, passing Bob Gibson in the process for 22nd on Creighton’s all-time scoring list, to give CU a 59-56 lead with 20.4 left.
The Huskies had three tries in the final 15 seconds but came up empty as Creighton survived.
UConn was led by 13 points each from Whaley and Sanogo, while Bouknight finished with 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting. The Huskies shot 32.8 percent for the game (19-58), including 21.4 percent from deep (3-14) and made 15-of-19 free throws.
Jefferson led Creighton with 14 points and tied his career-high with 12 rebounds while Zegarowski added 13 points. Bishop was also in double-figures with 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Creighton won the rebound battle 50-33 and grabbed 17 offensive boards. The Jays won despite shooting 37.1 percent from the field.
NOTES: Creighton has made a three-pointer in 909 straight games, and in 280 games in a row before halftime … A jumper with 13:39 left in the first half gave Alex O’Connell 500 career points when you include his stats from Duke … Christian Bishop moved into a tie for ninth place in Creighton history with his 79th career blocked shot …Damien Jefferson had his third double-double of the year and fifth of his career … Creighton clinched its sixth straight 20-win season, and 21st such campaign in the last 23 years … Creighton posted its 23rd victory under Greg McDermott when posting a double-digit deficit, and third this season … It was CU’s largest comeback victory on a neutral floor since overcoming a 12-point deficit vs. Alabama in the 2012 NCAA Tournament …The win was Creighton’s 50th all-time in conference tournament action and improved CU to 7-6 in the BIG EAST Tournament, and 24th as the No. 2 seed … Creighton will play for its first conference tournament title since winning the 2013 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament …The win was Greg McDermott‘s 250th on the Creighton sideline .