OMAHA, Neb. – Creighton had put up some scary shooting numbers before it faced Villanova on Sunday, leading Jay Wright to describe the Bluejays this way:
“They just keep coming, short shot clocks, deep shots, daggers, and then you add that crowd that really gets them going,” the Wildcats coach said two days before the game.
But after a first half when the Bluejays did just what was advertised, it was the Wildcats’ defense that took control of the game. That, and 19 second-half points from Phil Booth, helped the Cats roll to a 90-78 victory before a crowd of 17,379 at CHI Health Center.
In scoring the most points since putting up 100 in their season-opening win over Morgan State, the Wildcats (13-4, 4-0 Big East) shot 53.4 percent for the game, knocked down 12 three-point baskets and placed four players in double figures to remain the conference’s only unbeaten team in league play.
The defense, however, stood out. The Bluejays (10-7, 1-3) entered the game ranked in the top three in Division I in field-goal percentage (51.5 percent), three-point percentage (44.4), and three-point baskets (12.1 per game). While they swished 14 threes Sunday, Villanova held them to 40 percent shooting in the second half.
Offensively, ‘Nova went on a pair of 13-0 runs sparked each time by Booth, who finished with 28 points and seven assists. During those spurts, Creighton went a total of 8 minutes, 26 seconds (4:15 and 4:11) without scoring.
Asked whether that was the best defense his team had played all year, Wright replied, “Probably,” and gave credit to 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Jermaine Samuels. Samuels started in place of Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who had a sore tibia, according to Wright, and played just five minutes.
“He can play their forward and then also switch out on the perimeter,” Wright said. “They got a couple inside, they sealed him a couple of times. But he had a couple of blocked shots, a couple of rebounds, contested a couple of shots, and then he guarded on the perimeter against their guards. That was a big difference.”
Samuels contributed 13 points, six rebounds, and both of Villanova’s blocked shots in a season high-tying 26 minutes.
“For us, we were just focusing on communicating with each other and switching up different coverages,” Samuels said, “but overall just trying to play hard and being there for our teammates when we came off the ball screens. That way we didn’t give them any looks, we could stay in front of them.”
The Wildcats trailed by nine twice, the last time at 47-38 early in the second half. The answer was their first 13-0 run during which Booth scored eight straight points and Samuels converted an old-fashioned three-point play to make it 51-47.
The Bluejays scored the next six for their final lead before Booth knocked down back-to-back treys to spark the second 13-0 run. Saddiq Bey’s dunk ended that spurt to give ‘Nova a 64-53 lead at the 9:36 mark and Creighton never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
“I try to stay aggressive the whole game,” Booth said. “They did some great things defensively in the first half. The shots went down in the second half. As a team, we just tried to stay aggressive.”
Eric Paschall finished with 21 points and seven rebounds for Villanova, and Collin Gillespie added 14 points, five assists, and three steals.