Creighton finds its shot against Providence for Big East-opening victory

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Creighton’s jump shots often haven’t fallen in its slugfests against the Friars, whose bullish nature can make it difficult for CU’s offense to find a rhythm.

But the 3-pointers went in Monday. And the Bluejays earned a road win because of it.

Creighton (10-4, 1-0) knocked down 13 3s — its most ever against the Providence since joining the Big East — during a 79-68 victory in its conference opener at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The Jays went 9 of 10 from long range during one stretch after halftime to turn a three-point deficit into a 67-58 advantage with 6:11 left.

“We were able to get it loose in the second half,” coach Greg McDermott said in the postgame press conference. “We were really trying to attack the paint and then spray it. We did a good job of making the extra pass and getting some good looks from 3.”

The long-range jumper has been a crucial aspect of CU’s offense under McDermott, particularly this season. The Jays entered Monday ranked fifth nationally in 3-point shooting (42.6 percent).

But they’ve rarely shot the ball well against Providence.

Twice since joining the Big East has Creighton made more than 40 percent of its 3 in a game against the Friars — the Jays had shot 30.4 percent in the 13 previous contests.

And they started 4 of 17 from 3-point range Monday. Sophomore Ty-Shon Alexander banked in one of those.

But even the misses – aside from the two that got blocked — were quality looks, McDermott said. He encouraged his guys to create more.

They did, and they took advantage.

Junior Martin Krampelj knocked down a trailer 3 to tie the game 41-41. Freshman Marcus Zegarowski made a couple pullups. Senior Connor Cashaw found Mitch Ballock in transition.

Ballock created and dished to senior Kaleb Joseph, who nailed one from the corner — that shot ended up giving CU the lead for good at 55-53. On the next trip, Zegarowski dribbled into the heart of Providence’s defense on the break and spotted an open Alexander, who extended Creighton’s advantage to 58-53.

A couple possessions later, Krampelj hit a 3 off Ballock’s dribble penetration at the end of the shot clock. Ballock then drilled a contested 3-pointer 45 seconds later, pump-faking to create space and launching a fallaway that splashed through the net. Junior Davion Mintz then hit a pullup 3 over an outstretched arm to put the Jays ahead by nine.

“We threw in a couple lucky ones late in the shot clock,” McDermott said. “Sometimes you need that to go on the road and win, a little good fortune. We got it (Monday).”

But the Jays did other things, too.

They weren’t able to come up with many answers to slow Providence junior Alpha Diallo, who got nine of his team-high 18 points at the foul line. But the Friars finished the game with a 40.7 shooting percentage, often forced to settle for jumpers or contested drives.

Eliminating the high-percentage looks was something Creighton could control. It wanted to make Providence earn its buckets against a set defense. No putbacks. No runout layups.

McDermott stressed that plan before the game, Zegarowski said.

After the Friars created four second-chance opportunities in the first four minutes of the second half, the best offensive rebounding team in the league managed two offensive boards after that.

The Jays’ ability to take care of the ball – they finished with the fewest turnovers they’ve had in five games (12) – kept Providence from getting easy opportunities in transition.

And ultimately, the Friars didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with Creighton’s hot shooting.

“(McDermott) said if we outrebounded them and limited the turnovers, we were going to win the game,” Zegarowski said. “He was spot on.”

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