OMAHA, Neb. – Villanova found itself Saturday with another road game in front of a crazy standing-room-only crowd, where more often than not the Wildcats usually find a way to grind out a victory with their execution at both ends of the court.
But the third-ranked Cats were unable to close the deal against Creighton after leading by eight points with 4 ½ minutes to play in regulation. They went cold not only in the closing stages of the second half but also over a key stretch of overtime and lost, 89-83, to the Bluejays before a crowd of 18,321 at CenturyLink Center.
The defeat, which dropped the Wildcats (25-4, 12-4) one full game behind Xavier in the battle for first place in the Big East with two games to play for each team, played out like a heavyweight fight. The game featured 13 lead changes and 13 ties, and neither team held an advantage of more than six points for the first 35 minutes.
When Jalen Brunson went on a personal 8-0 run ending with two free throws that gave ‘Nova a 68-60 lead with 4 minutes, 32 seconds to play, it looked as if the Wildcats finally had found a degree of control to finish it off.
But they didn’t. Creighton (20-9, 9-7) called a timeout, then ran off nine consecutive points for the lead. Villanova made just one of its last eight shots of regulation (0 for 5 on three-pointers) and scored only four points.
Donte DiVincenzo made the second of two free throws with 9.3 seconds to play to force the overtime, and Mikal Bridges blocked Marcus Foster’s layup as the buzzer sounded.
“To have an eight-point lead like that at that point, you should be in pretty good shape,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said, “but that’s where you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. Their guards just made great decisions … just a little bit better than our defense. We were just a step behind on a lot of those plays.”
The Cats’ Eric Paschall scored the first two baskets of overtime, but the visitors made only one of their next seven shots as the Bluejays pulled away for the win.
Brunson scored 22 points, including 13 of Villanova’s last 23. He shot 8 for 20 from the field and 1 for 5 from three-point range, where he is just 5 of 32 in his last six games.
“The atmosphere for them, they played great with their atmosphere,” Brunson said. “They’re well coached, they’re really disciplined. They’re real good at running their stuff. You’ve just got to give credit to them. They just were making plays.”
Each team had 12 three-pointers, but Villanova needed 10 more shots. For the game, the Cats shot 41.1 percent overall, their lowest mark in a Big East game this season. Phil Booth, in his second game back from a broken hand, had five points and three assists but shot just 2 for 9.
“You know on the road in this league you’re going to play in great environments, you’re going to play against great teams,” Wright said. “You have to be one step ahead of them to win on the road and we weren’t today. They were just one step better.”
Missing starting forward Ronnie Harrell Jr., who sat out the game with a foot infection, the Bluejays were led by Foster with 28 points and Khyri Thomas with 24 in breaking an eight-game losing streak to the Wildcats.
“We competed, we showed a lot of grit,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I’m really, really proud of our basketball team. We beat one of the best teams in the country.”