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Morning After: #2 Villanova Pulls Away from #23 Creighton in Second Half to Win 79-63

Morning After: #2 Villanova Pulls Away from #23 Creighton in Second Half to Win 79-63

[Box Score]

Key Stats:

Creighton scores a season-low 16 points in the paint, and attempts their second-highest number of three-pointers (28). Partly as a result of all those jump shots, they attempt just six free throws (while ‘Nova goes 17-22 at the line).

The Jays commit 16 turnovers, leading to 14 Villanova points.

Standout Performance:

Marcus Foster continues to expand his game offensively, dishing out a season-high eight assists, and grabbing five rebounds in another game where he did more than just score. He still did plenty of scoring, though: Foster had 25 points thanks in large part to shooting 6-9 from three-point range.

Eight of those points came in a personal 8-0 run to end the first half, closing a 33-25 gap and tying the game at 33 as the teams went to the locker rooms.

Recap & Analysis:

As we talked about in the Primer, the prevailing prediction from Jays fans coming into Saturday’s game was that Villanova would win handily. The Wildcats won by 16, but the final score doesn’t do justice to the kind of game this was — it was tied 33-33 at half, and knotted at 45 as late as the 13:29 mark in the second half. CU played well enough to hang in the game most of the afternoon, but not well enough to come away with the win against the defending national champs and current second-ranked team on their senior day. That’s more than I or almost anyone expected, given the opponent, the situation, the off-court distractions this week, etc.

So why all the postgame angst from fans? Corey Lathrop, who produces Nick Bahe’s show on 1620AM and hosts Shootaround before game broadcasts, asked that question on Twitter and got some interesting replies.

It comes down to two things, I think. One is that despite the dire pre-game predictions, the Bluejays led by two after six minutes of second-half action. They teased people into thinking they might pull off the upset, which made the eventual double-digit loss — which again, was what almost everyone predicted — tougher to swallow than it would have otherwise been. Two is just the cumulative effect of the last six weeks. They lost once in their first 19 games; they lost six of their next 10. Their starting point guard first tore his ACL, ending his season, and now finds himself charged with sexual assault. Their coach is taking heat for his handling of the point guard spot, his playing rotations, and repeated failure to win close games. Their projections of a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament and predictions of finally making it to the second weekend (or beyond) have given way to the realization they’re headed for the middle of the bracket with heavy odds against advancing past the Round of 32.

That makes it tough for any one loss to be compartmentalized separate from the whole. The whole thing is frustrating, and that’s what you saw boil over after yesterday’s loss.

Even if you do manage to view Saturday’s game in a vacuum, separate from everything else, it still looks an awful lot like a missed opportunity. Villanova had their worst-shooting game of the season from three-point range — at 4-19, the four makes tie a season low matched only by a 4-16 performance against Notre Dame in December; at 21%, only their game at Marquette in January where they shot 16% (6-34) has been worse. With Darryl Reynolds out, the ‘Cats were undersized inside and had very little depth, yet Justin Patton only attempted three shots in 25 minutes and looked alternatively lethargic, frustrated and confused. Zach Hanson was a perfect 5-5 from the field in 15 minutes, but even with that, Creighton scored a season-low 16 points in the paint.

As it’s been of late, Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas were incredible and did everything they could to lift their team to victory. After falling behind 7-0, a 12-2 Bluejay run gave them the lead after Thomas hit a pair of threes sandwiched around threes from Foster and Cole Huff. Then when ‘Nova answered with a 15-2 run and looked close to blowing the game open, Foster and Thomas combined to score 10 straight and tie the game at 33. Thomas’ stellar defense on National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart played a big role, too; this play to end the half epitomizes how he stifled Hart.

Over the first 37 minutes of the game, Hart had season lows across the board — he had eight points on 4-7 shooting, much of the time guarded by Thomas. But he scored eight points in the final three minutes as the Wildcats closed out the win.

After Creighton took a 45-43 lead with just under 14 minutes left, they made far too many mistakes the rest of the afternoon to stay in the game. Over the next 13 possessions, Villanova scored on 12 of them, getting nine points on free throws and 15 from the floor; the game went from 45-43 Creighton to 67-55 Villanova over a ten-minute span where the Wildcats seized control. The Jays turned it over, failed to secure rebounds, were out-hustled for seemingly every 50/50 ball, and missed easy shots — against a team of Villanova’s caliber, those things are deadly.

Creighton now heads into the final week of the season caught in a six-team jumble in the middle of the Big East standings, with the possibility of being seeded anywhere from second to eighth, though by far the most likely scenario is for them to be seeded third or fourth.

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