NEW YORK — All five of Creighton’s players had their feet in the paint as they watched a potential game-tying shot bounce off the rim.
The scenario they had prepped for? It was playing out right there in that moment, with the game on the line in the closing seconds of regulation. They had talked all week about Providence’s size and strength. They had watched video clips of the Friars crashing the glass. They had reviewed their box-out fundamentals in practice.
Yet when they needed a rebound Thursday, they couldn’t get one.
Providence sophomore Alpha Diallo outmuscled a couple of CU guards to grab his own miss, guide in a layup and force overtime with 13 seconds left. No. 5 seed Providence never trailed from there, handing No. 4 seed Creighton a 72-68 defeat in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
“Obviously they bullied us a little bit right at the end of regulation with a couple offensive rebounds that ended up being difference in the game,” CU coach Greg McDermott said.
There were five rebounding opportunities after missed Friar shots in the final four minutes of regulation. Creighton secured just two of them — and one, fortuitously for CU, came after the referees reversed a call on a loose ball that skipped out of bounds.
It’s been a weakness all season for the Jays, particularly since the season-ending injury to Martin Krampelj. The fact that Creighton (21-11) went with a five-guard lineup late Thursday — to match Providence’s smaller look — only magnified its vulnerabilities.
The Friars (20-12) ended up grabbing 16 offensive rebounds Thursday, the most by a Creighton opponent this season.
They weren’t particularly efficient with their extra chances (just 12 second-chance points), but an offense that lacked firepower all afternoon undoubtedly benefited psychologically from the energy-boosting hustle plays on the glass.
The Bluejays couldn’t hold their ground.
“At the end of the day, it’s just about toughness,” CU junior Khyri Thomas said. “It’s just a war, whether you’re boxing out a point guard or a 7-footer. You’ve just got to box out. That’s one thing they’re good at, getting those rebounds and being strong.”
The Friars’ physicality showed up in other aspects of the game, too.
They routinely attacked favorable matchups in the post, getting 35 of their 46 points after halftime in the paint or at the foul line.
They had 6-foot-8 forward Rodney Bullock back his man down and the 6-foot-7 Diallo power his way to the rim. Even 6-foot-7 Jalen Lindsey — a marksman who typically hovers around the perimeter — went one-on-one and scored once inside against 6-3 Davion Mintz.
“We had a lot of mismatches,” Bullock said.” We ran a lot of plays for us to get the ball in the post and play out of the post.”
And on the other end of the floor, CU never seemed to settle in against Providence’s length.
The Jays had a 14-possession span in the first half when they managed just four points. The shots started falling in the second half, but the turnovers quickly began mounting after that (there were 10 giveaways in the final 25 minutes).
“Getting that rhythm, going on a run and trying to push it — we didn’t really have one of those runs (Saturday),” Mintz said. “We’d take a good step, but it was hard to take that next step.”
Still, Creighton had a chance at the end.
Diallo tied the game with that momentous putback. Senior Marcus Foster then got the ball right after that but lost his dribble and could only heave up a wild shot at the buzzer. That sent the game to overtime.
Providence controlled the game from there, scoring on all but two of its overtime possessions. Senior Kyron Cartwright hit a back-breaking mid-range jumper to put the Friars up 70-66 with 14 seconds left.
CU had one last shot to tie, but freshman Mitch Ballock missed an open 3-pointer in the final seconds.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “They made timely plays, timely shots and free throws across the board.”