VILLANOVA, Pa. — No. 10 Villanova clinched its seventh BIG EAST title in the last eight seasons with a 72-60 victory over No. 14 Creighton in a top-15 battle at Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday, March 3rd. The Bluejays trailed by as much as 22 early in the second half and narrowed the deficit to five before ultimately running out of gas late.
The loss means that Creighton (17-7, 13-6 BIG EAST) will be the No. 2 seed at next week’s BIG EAST Tournament and play at 5 p.m. Central in the third quarterfinal on Thursday, March 11. Villanova (16-4, 11-3 BIG EAST) will be the top seed in the event.
Damien Jefferson scored 11 of his 13 points after halftime and added eight rebounds and four assists for the Bluejays. Also in double-figures were veteran guards Mitch Ballock (14) and Marcus Zegarowski (10).
Creighton scored on its first two trips to take an early 5-0 advantage and still were up 7-5 after a driving lay-up from Zegarowski before enduring a scoring drought of 6:07 that involved two missed free throws and eight consecutive misses before a three-ball by Shereef Mitchell ended Villanova’s 12-0 run.
Mitchell’s basket did little to slow down one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. The Wildcats scored on 18 of its 33 possessions in the first half to take a 42-23 halftime advantage. Justin Moore led Villanova with 10 points in the first half on 4-of-4 shooting, part of a Wildcat effort that shot 54.5 percent (18-33) from the floor. CU was paced by seven points from Zegarowski, but hte Jays shot just 29 percent from the floor (9-31), 25 percent from deep (4-16) and at the line (1-4).
Creighton came out firing in the second half, getting a Ballock trey to beat the shot clock on its first possession. Damien Jefferson scored CU’s next nine points to keep hope alive. Led by Mitchell, CU’s defense then held Nova scoreless for nearly eight minutes during a scintillating 17-0 run that brought the Jays within 57-52 with 6:58 to go. CU had a chance to draw within two but missed an open three-pointer before Robinson-Earl snapped the scoring drought for the hosts, and Nova would hold on down the stretch for the victory.
Moore led Villanova with 24 points, Robinson-Earl had a 14 points and 14 rebounds and Brandon Slater contributed 11 points off the bench.
Creighton will close the regular-season on Saturday when it hosts Butler at 4 p.m.