Junior point guard Maurice Watson Jr. entered his first season in a Creighton uniform poised to lead the team to success and showed the Bluejay faithful on Tuesday that he can live up to his role.
Watson scored a career-high 27 points to pace the Creighton men’s basketball to a 79-66 win over Georgetown at CenturyLink Center Omaha.
“He controlled the game,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “There’s no other way to put it. With not just his scoring but how placed and got the ball to his teammates; he doesn’t make mistakes.”
On his way to a new career-high for a single game, Watson also surpassed the 1,000-point barrier for his career. The junior scored 800 points in two seasons at Boston University and has scored 221 points in 16 games with the Bluejays (13.8 points per game).
“He’s worked hard and stayed with it, obviously there’s been some growing pains between him and I -- him trying to figure out our system and where his shots come from and what’s our offense all about -- and he’s continuing to grow and get better,” coach Greg McDermott said. “He certainly looked like he belonged out there tonight; he was the best player on the floor.”
The junior also added seven rebounds and four assists.
As good as he was offensively Watson impressed on the defensive end while guarding the Hoyas’ best player, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, for the majority of the game.
Smith-Rivera played 38 minutes on Tuesday and finished with a team-high 17 points, but had three turnovers and only four points in the final 15 minutes.
“I tried to use my size to get up under him and make things tough for him,” Watson said, “and I think it worked.”
While it was Watson that got the accolades for his offensive performance and defense against Georgetown’s leader, the Bluejays team defense also propelled the Jays to their second Big East win.
The Creighton (11-5, 2-1 Big East) offense struggled to start the second half with only 12 points in the first nine minutes, but the defense held its own as Georgetown never led by more than three points and by only one, 51-50, with 11:50 to play.
Neither team led by more than one possession during the final 20 minutes until the 8:38 mark of the final half.
Junior guard Isaiah Zierden missed his first 3-point attempts after halftime but L.J. Peak fouled on him fourth attempt.
Zierden made all three free-throw attempts to give Creighton a 61-56 lead.
Junior forward Zach Hanson followed Zierden’s free throws with a layup to cap a 10-0 run.
“My job personally and everybody that comes off the bench when we are called to go in we have to bring a lot of energy and be able to execute and that’s what we try to do,” Hanson said.
Hanson scored five points during Creighton’s spurt and finished with seven points and three rebounds in 16 minutes of action.
Senior James Milliken led Creighton’s bench with 12 points (10 in the first half), freshman guard Ronnie Harrell Jr. had five rebounds and five points and sophomore forward Toby Hegner grabbed five rebounds and scored three.
Georgetown (9-6, 2-1 Big East) didn’t let Creighton’s 10-0 run spoil its chances of a win. The Hoyas pulled within three, but the Bluejays’ stopped the visiting team from tying the game or taking the lead.
Zierden ignited the CenturyLink Center crowd with back-to-back steals and Georgetown committed turnovers on three consecutive trips in the final two minutes.
The Hoyas scored on only two of their final 10 possessions on Tuesday night.
The Bluejays sealed the victory making 7-of-8 free throws in the final two minutes. Creighton finished 21-of-25 from the free-throw line for a season-best 84 percent.
The Bluejays led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but scored only two points in the final four minutes and the Hoyas cut the lead to 38-36 at the break.
Creighton forced 15 turnovers and held Georgetown to 47 percent from the field. The Bluejays allowed Villanova to shoot 68 percent from the field on Saturday.
Creighton’s defensive performance on Tuesday may have given the team extra confidence heading into its second week of Big East action.
“We just kind of proved to ourselves that in the Villanova game and in the games to come that if we can defend like that we’re going to put ourselves in a really good position to win most games,” Hanson said.
The Bluejays return to action on Saturday at Seton Hall (12-3, 2-1). Tip-off is scheduled for 1:07 p.m.
“We don’t need to necessarily thrive defensively; we need to survive defensively,” McDermott said. “And if we can do that and keep our offense moving forward and keep playing together we’re going to have a chance to have more nights like this.”