With a 83-65 loss to top-ranked Gonzaga Sunday afternoon, the Bluejays ended their season in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Sweet 16 matchup against the undefeated Zags featured double-digit performances from four of Gonzaga’s five starters.
“This is the third time in four years that we played them, and I just have the utmost respect for just how they go about their business, how they play the game,” coach Greg McDermott said. “They play the game the right way. They're incredibly unselfish.”
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme put up the game high of 22 points, and the Zags put up 50 points in the paint.
Protecting at the rim was an element the Jays knew would be difficult.
“All five of their players, they get easy lay-ups and easy baskets at the rim. We wanted to really pack the paint in and try to make them beat us by taking jump shots,” junior guard Marcus Zegarowski said. “They obviously hit shots. They got hot early and kind of kept that going.”
Aside from their ability to score down low, McDermott recognized the Zags’ power defensively with an interchangeable unit in their starters. Gonzaga also out-rebounded on the defensive glass 29-18.
“This is not a one-trick pony,” he said. “These guys can play on both ends of the floor.”
Heading into half, the Bluejays trailed by 10. Gonzaga jumped out quickly at the start of the second, building its 10-point lead to 14 by the first media timeout.
“Obviously, the start of the second half was huge for us. We really felt like, for us to have an opportunity, we had to win that first four-minute timeout,” McDermott said.
Creighton was led by Zegarowski with 19 points, followed by senior forward Denzel Mahoney with 13.
The Jays went just five of 23 from behind the 3-point line, a typically strong component of the team’s game.
Capping the year with a 23-9 record, McDermott and Zegarowski each reflected on the Jays’ historic season following the game, including the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance in 47 years.
“It's been incredible. I'm just so proud of everybody on this team these past — even guys who were on the team last year, they're a part of this,” Zegarowski said. “They're the reason why we're here as well. I'm just so proud of everybody. We played our hearts out.”
McDermott had a similar thought, recognizing in particular the efforts of his seniors.
Looking at the future, McDermott is hopeful his returners will build as strong of a group as he’s seen with this year’s team.
The Bluejays will lose three of five starters heading into next season in Mahoney, Mitch Ballock and Damien Jefferson.
“Obviously, we're going to lose some really, really good players, and we've got to regroup from that, but our expectation is that we want to compete for championships year in and year out,” he said.
Gonzaga now faces Southern California in the Elite Eight on Tuesday evening.