NEW YORK — An explosive first-half scoring surge from St. John’s erased Creighton’s early lead and left the Bluejays scrambling to recover for the rest of the night in an 81-66 defeat at Carnesecca Arena.
The Red Storm scored 22 points during a nine-possession span late in the first half, making 9 of 10 shots. Junior Shamorie Ponds scored eight in a row midway through that surge, which flipped an eight-point deficit into a 36-31 advantage for the Red Storm (15-3, 3-3 Big East).
The Jays remained within striking distance much of the second half, but a below-average 3-point shooting performance, an inability to prevent offensive rebounds and a few untimely turnovers kept Creighton (10-8, 1-4) from putting together a rally.
The defeat extended Creighton’s losing streak to four games, the longest for the program in four years. The Jays fell to last place in the Big East.
“That run was critical to getting the game turned in their favor,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said on his postgame radio show.
It happened rather quickly — and quite ferociously.
Creighton jumped to a 23-15 advantage with 7:50 left before halftime, finding junior Martin Krampelj for dunks inside and getting a couple of 3-pointers to fall. But four minutes later, St. John’s was ahead.
Ponds’ short jumper started the run. The Red Storm then had two putback layups, three 3-pointers, three other finishes at the rim and a free throw.
Freshman Marcus Zegarowski — who led four Jays in double figures with 17 points — hit one of his five 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 37-34, but CU squandered its next two possessions. Then Ponds nailed a fadeaway jumper to push the lead to 39-34 at the break.
And St. John’s, which had lost two in a row, never trailed again. Ponds missed Saturday’s game with a back injury, but set the tone for the Red Storm on Wednesday. He finished with a game-high 22 points and five assists.
“Our margin for error is really, really thin right now,” McDermott said. “And we’re aware of that. We’re trying to do everything we can to plug the holes but there’s a few of them there right now.”
Creighton’s flaws showed up even more without the 3-pointer.
The Jays, who entered Wednesday second nationally in 3-point shooting percentage (43.9), made 11 of 35 3-point attempts (31.4 percent). They missed 7 of 8 to open the second half.
Their best scoring options — sophomores Mitch Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander — combined to go 3 of 18 from behind the arc. They got good looks, McDermott said, but they didn’t fall.
“Those are guys who are above 40 percent (shooters) on the year and two of our best shooters, and we need them to shoot it,” McDermott said. “Had we had one of them be a little bit better (Wednesday), I think it changes the game.”
Instead, Creighton played from behind after halftime and wasn’t sharp enough to keep St. John’s from pulling away.
After committing two turnovers in the first 15 minutes, the Jays gave the ball away 11 times in the final 25 minutes. Two of those turnovers sandwiched a missed 3-pointer right after Creighton closed to 56-51.
The Red Storm had six offensive rebounds in the second half, too — and two of them came on back-to-back possessions when sophomore LJ Figueroa converted consecutive putbacks to push the Red Storm lead to 64-53 with seven minutes remaining. The lead grew to as many as 17.
“We’ve just got to come out of halftime and play a lot stronger, a lot harder,” Krampelj said on the postgame radio show.
Ankle surgery will sideline Creighton’s Damien Jefferson for at least one month
The Bluejays announced that Damien Jefferson will have surgery on his ankle Thursday. The sophomore is expected to return before the end of the season.
Jefferson injured the foot late in the first half of Creighton’s 106-104 loss to Marquette last week. He played two possessions in the second half before sitting out the rest of the game. He missed Sunday’s game at Villanova and didn’t make the trip to St. John’s.
McDermott, speaking on the Jays’ pregame radio show, said the timeline for recovery isn’t clear. It could be three to six weeks before Jefferson’s healthy enough to play.
“Obviously, a blow to him because he did good things for us this season,” McDermott said. “But also a blow to our team. So hopefully we’ve got guys that can step up.”
Jefferson averaged 9.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 16 games (15 starts) this year. He’s been a 44.8 percent 3-point shooter. His length and athleticism also aided Creighton defensively.
Creighton already lost sophomore Jacob Epperson for the season. He underwent surgery on his right knee last week.