VILLANOVA, Pa. — Creighton gave a gutsy effort without two starters against the Big East’s best team, but the Jays couldn’t close out the upset in regulation and Villanova convincingly capitalized on its new life after that.
Senior Kaleb Joseph went 1 of 3 from the foul line with 37 seconds left, tying the game at 49-49 but missing out on the chance to put CU ahead. He couldn’t hit a contested runner at the buzzer, either.
The Wildcats (19-4, 10-0 Big East), who’ve won 11 in a row, took over from there.
The reigning national champions outmuscled Creighton’s undermanned roster for offensive rebounds and outhustled the weary Jays for a couple loose balls during the extra five minutes — and Villanova held on for a 66-59 overtime win Wednesday.
But it was a game that Creighton may eventually look back on with admiration.
“A lot of things have hit us at once,” CU coach Greg McDermott said in the postgame press conference. “Rather than feel sorry for ourselves, we went out and played and competed and gave ourselves a chance against a very good basketball team.”
CU (13-10, 4-6) announced just before tipoff that leading scorer Ty-Shon Alexander would be out for the night with a leg injury. The sophomore guard will get an X-ray and an MRI Thursday, according to McDermott.
The Jays already knew they’d be playing without starting guard Marcus Zegarowski (broken hand) as well.
Sophomore Damien Jefferson (ankle) did return to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 9, but he was on a minutes restriction. Senior Connor Cashaw, who missed Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, wasn’t 100 percent healthy, but he ended up logging a season-high 40 minutes.
The depleted roster situation was what convinced Creighton’s coaches that the Jays would have to run an uncharacteristically slow-paced offense. The Bluejays walked the ball up the floor. They voluntarily let the shot clock dip under 10 seconds.
Their theory was that they needed to try to preserve energy so they could bring the required tenacity and grit it takes to limit the Wildcats’ high-efficiency offense.
“We have never played as slow as we played (Wednesday), but I really felt it was the only chance we had to win,” McDermott said on his postgame radio show. “And it almost worked.”
Creighton held Villanova to its worst shooting performance (37.5 percent) since December. The Wildcats missed 11 of their first 13 3-pointers — McDermott said the Jays’ ability to contest those shots played a part in that.
And even when Villanova appeared to find its rhythm — the Wildcats had an eight-possession span produce 15 points midway through the second half — CU never backed down.
The Bluejays used a 9-2 spurt to take a 48-45 lead with 4:36 left in regulation. It was junior Davion Mintz who nailed a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock to cap that surge.
“It was just great to see the fight, from everyone,” Mintz said on the postgame radio show. “That’s something people don’t get to see every day in practice but it’s always consistent with those guys.”
But they weren’t able to make enough plays down the stretch.
Creighton missed its final four shots in regulation — the last one, by Joseph, came on an in-bounds play originally designed for Martin Krampelj, but Villanova’s length took away the passing lane, McDermott said.
Then in overtime, Mintz hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 52-52 on Creighton’s first possession. CU missed its next five shots, though.
Villanova had some issues, too. But it kept creating second chances. It grabbed an offensive rebound on each of the first four shots it missed in overtime.
The Wildcats brought the crowd to its feet with a putback dunk off a missed free throw. Two trips later, Villanova beat CU to an air-balled shot — the offensive rebound set up senior Phil Booth for a 3-pointer, putting his team ahead 58-52.
Creighton never got any closer.
“We just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank,” McDermott said.