The Creighton men’s basketball team continued its cold shooting from beyond the arc and allowed the visitors to seize control at the beginning of each half as the Bluejays dropped their second consecutive game.
Marquette defeated Creighton 66-61 at CenturyLink Center Omaha on Wednesday night.
The Bluejays made only three 3-pointers (3 of 21) and shot less than 30 percent (14.3) from deep for the third time in their past four games.
“There’s only so many times that we can say we have an off-shooting night,” junior forward Cole Huff said. “When it happens 75 percent of the season it’s not an off night, it’s just how we’re shooting the ball.”
Creighton ranks last in the Big East in 3-point shooting percentage during conference games (30.1 percent).
Coach Greg McDermott noted that much of Creighton’s offense relies on its ability to make shots from beyond the arc.
“It’s a big part of who we are and it’s difficult offensively; without that you don’t have the spacing and you don’t have the lanes to drive, we don’t have the isolations in the post that we’d like to have,” McDermott said. “It’s perplexing because we’ve shot it pretty well in practice and that’s the thing that’s hard for me to understand.”
Marquette (18-10, 7-8 Big East) gained early momentum by making six of its first seven shots and built a 13-4 lead to keep the majority of the 17,412 fans glued to their seats.
“I’m new to the Big East, but I admire Creighton and their fan base for the way they come out and support their team,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “It’s a great place to play and a very difficult place to win and that makes me even more proud of our guys to be able to gut out a win.”
Creighton (17-11, 8-7) fought back and led 19-17 and 21-20, but the Golden Eagles closed the half on a 12-2 run to take a 10-point lead into halftime.
Marquette held the Bluejays without a 3-point field goal (0 of 9) in the first half for the first time in 111 consecutive games.
Junior guard Isaiah Zierden, Creighton’s leading 3-point shooter, quickly denied any accusations that not playing for eight days caused the Bluejays to have an off night.
“In my opinion, it wasn’t rust, maybe for some guys,” Zierden said. “It was more about the big game atmosphere and forcing it and wanting it to go in so bad, and it wasn’t tonight in the first half.”
Creighton also committed 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes and the Golden Eagles held a 13-4 edge in points off turnovers.
“We were down at halftime a lot due to we weren’t even getting shots, but they were getting transition layups and that really put us in a tough spot,” Zierden said.
For the fourth consecutive game, McDermott started seniors Geoffrey Groselle and James Milliken, junior Maurice Watson Jr., sophomore Toby Hegner and Zierden. The group helped the Jays build a 21-4 lead against No. 5 Xavier and 15-5 at Marquette.
“That starting group, as good as they’ve been at starting games and starting halves, they didn’t have anything tonight,” McDermott said. “We were averaging 11 turnovers per game on the season; we turn it over 11 times in the first half. And [it was] just crazy decisions or out of character decisions, so that’s hard to explain why that would show up. Is it the lay-off? I don’t know. They had plenty of rest so for the most part we should be physically where we need to be.”
Similar to the start of the game and the end of the half, Marquette scored the first five points of the second half to build its largest lead of the game at 15.
The Golden Eagles offensive efficiency forced the Bluejays to switch to a zone defense. The change helped as Creighton used a 12-0 run to bring the game back to a single point, 53-52.
“Going into halftime with a 10-point lead was really good and then we were able to extend that lead at the start of the second half,” Wojciechowski said, “and that separation was huge for us because when they changed defense our offense sputtered and we were able to have enough of a lead where we were able to hang on.”
During the run, Zierden made Creighton’s first 3-point field goal of the game with 9:04 to play.
Huff had a chance to give the Bluejays the lead, but missed two consecutive shots.
Creighton tied the game at 56 after a transition 3-pointer from Zierden with 4:17 remaining, but Marquette’s Duane Wilson responded with a fast-break layup.
“At times it can take us a little bit longer to adjust to a change in defense, but Duane was able to make a couple baskets and huge plays where he kept us with a one or two possession lead and while there was enormous game pressure on us,” Wojciechowski said.
The Bluejays trailed 62-58 with less than 45 seconds to play, but Huff missed two consecutive 3-pointers before Jajuan Johnson snatched the rebound and converted two free throws to extend the lead at six.
Watson made a 3-pointer at the top of the key to cut the lead to a single possession with less than 10 seconds to play, but freshman Henry Ellenson sealed the victory with a pair of free throws.
Ellenson finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead Marquette.
Watson led Creighton with 14 points and Huff added 12.
“We haven’t practiced the best the last week or so and I’m not sure we really want to practice that much,” McDermott said. “Sometimes in life you get what you deserve, and we deserved this because from our seniors all the way down to our freshmen, for whatever reason, they think they’ve arrived and they weren’t much interested in practicing.
“That’s unfortunate because we had a chance to do something special here, and tonight we didn’t have it.”
Creighton currently sits in fourth place in the Big East standings with three games remaining. The Jays host St. John’s on Sunday at 1:37 p.m. Sunday is also senior day.
“It’s not about the X’s and O’s, it’s just about focus and wanting to do it,” Huff said, “so we have three games left and we’ll see what we can do.”