A lengthy day in New York City concluded with the Creighton Bluejays defeating the Providence Friars 70-58 in the final quarterfinal matchup in the 2017 Big East Tournament. The win pits the Jays against the No. 7 seeded Xavier Musketeers, who upset the No. 2 Butler Bulldogs, in Friday’s second semifinals matchup.
“I’m extremely proud of our team,” coach Greg McDermott said after the game. “So extremely proud of the team to get back to the semifinals, to have an opportunity to play in another championship game.”
Although they didn’t play their best game, their head coach told the press tha at this time of year, one thing should be a priority. “This time of year, you try to survive,” McDermott said. “You’re trying to get to the next day. And that’s going to be the case this weekend and then the next week the NCAA Tournament is the same way. You see what you’ve got that night. Do you have your A game? Do you have your B game, shooting the basketball? And you just adjust and try to find a way to win.”
Balance was primarily the name of the game for Creighton as three players got into double figures. Khyri Thomas, normally known for his terrific defense, led the team with 19 points on 5-11 from the field and was a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line. Thomas, per usual, was a stalwart on the defensive end too.
“For [Rodney] Bullock, I wasn’t really doing a whole lot,” Thomas stated after being asked what he was doing to make things so chaotic for both Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright. “I don’t think he was being as aggressive the first two times we played him. And Cartwright, he’s super quick. He blew by me every time. But with him, I just kind of laid off his shot and laid back off the 3-point line and made him drive. And he kind of made some tough shots and missed some as well.”
All-Big East First Teamer Marcus Foster and Cole Huff chipped 15 and 10 points of their own in too.
Justin Patton, the 2017 Big East Freshman of the Year, put up nine points and wound up with eight rebounds, coming a point and two boards shy of a double-double. Patton was effective nevertheless, shooting 4-6 from the field.
The Jays weren’t their usual selves from the 3-point line, but were able to find a new point of attack in the second half. After entering the break with seven free throw attempts, Creighton finished the game with 24.
“When you’re not shooting 3s, well, you better do something different,” coach McDermott said after being asked whether getting to the line was a point of emphasis at halftime. “Obviously, the threat of our ability to shoot the 3, because we’ve been one of the better teams in the country all season, opens things up and allows us to maybe get to the rim a little bit more than some teams.
“But Khryi was terrific. Justin was active, slipping out of some ball screens and getting to the rim and putting pressure on the rim. But, without question, getting into the bonus early was really critical for us that second half.”
Providence was plagued by poor free throw shooting as they shot 50 percent on 24 attempts at the line. The Friars didn’t fare too well in general from the floor, shooting 39.6 on 48 field goal attempts and 20 percent on 20 shots from downtown. They were also only able to get three points out of star Rodney Bullock in the game, so it was an assortment of factors that led to their undoing.
Kyron Cartwright scored 15 and added seven boards and four assists. The Big East’s Most Improved Player had one of his better efforts of the year, shooting 4-6 from the field and 6-10 from the free throw line. Emmitt Holt also got into double figures, scoring 14 points on 11 shots, with three boards and two assists to go along. Alpha Diallo joined the two Friars with 10 points of his own.
The loss snaps a six-game winning streak for the Friars who were arguably the hottest team in the conference going into the tourney.
“Well, that was a masterpiece there,” coach Ed Cooley remarked following the game. “We just didn’t play well. I give Creighton a lot of credit. ... 26 points on turnovers, uncharacteristic turnovers for us. I thought we were lackadaisical. Just didn’t play well. We picked a bad time to play our worst game in probably five or six weeks.”
While the Friars didn’t play up to the par they set in their aforementioned six-game win streak, Cooley alleviated the blame off his players in the postgame press conference.
“This loss is on me,” Cooley said. “Not those players. It’s a players game. The coach did a bad job today. But the players, they deserve more credit.”
Even with the loss, the Friars should still probably be in the 2017 NCAA Tournament and hear their name called on Selection Sunday. Of course, nothing’s assured at this point, but it would be hard to see them not in the mix in spite of their loss. Creighton, meanwhile, should remain in the field too.