The Creighton men’s basketball team arrived in New York City on Tuesday with one goal on its mind: win the Big East Tournament.
Thursday will be the Bluejays first step towards their first Big East Tournament championship since joining the conference in 2013.
Creighton will play third-seeded Seton Hall (22-8, 12-6 Big East) on Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.
The Bluejays dropped four of their last five games, including a 98-93 loss on Saturday at No. 5 Xavier, to finish the regular season 9-9 in conference play and 18-13 overall.
Creighton jumped out to an 11-3 lead against the Musketeers, but Xavier used a 17-0 run spanning halftime to take control of the game.
The Musketeers led by as many as 17 points in the second half before the Bluejays managed to cut the lead to a single possession late in the game.
Junior guard Malik Albert recorded a steal and layup to pull the Jays within two with 14.3 seconds to play, but Xavier made 3 of 4 free throws to claim the victory.
The Bluejays dropped to the No. 6 seed with the loss.
Seton Hall and Creighton will meet for the third time this season on Thursday.
The Pirates and Bluejays split a pair of meetings during the regular season.
Creighton defeated Seton Hall 82-67 on Jan. 9 in Newark, New Jersey, but fell 75-65 on Jan. 30 in Omaha.
In the first matchup, senior center Geoffrey Groselle scored 20 points while junior point guard Maurice Watson Jr. had 13 points and 14 assists.
Khadeen Carrington led the Pirates with 17 points.
After losing by 15 points on its home court, Seton Hall crashed Creighton’s pink out game with a 10-point victory in Omaha on Jan. 30.
The Pirates held a 46-27 rebounding advantage and trailed for a total of 54 seconds during the second meeting.
Seton Hall closed the first half on a 17-6 run to take a 13-point lead into halftime and used a 14-5 spurt to take a 22-point lead early in the second half.
Creighton cut the lead to 10 with 5:42 to play, but the Bluejays never trimmed the deficit to less than 10 points during the second half.
Unanimous All-Big East First Team selection Isaiah Whitehead led the Pirates with 22 points, while Desi Rodriguez (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Angel Delgado (13 points, 12 rebounds) each finished with double-doubles.
Senior guard James Milliken scored 21 points to lead the Jays and Watson had 14.
Milliken scored 67 points over the final three games of the season (22.3 points per game), including a career-high 26 at Providence on Wednesday.
Watson, an All-Big East Second Team selection, leads Creighton with 14.5 points and 6.6 assists per game. He averaged 15.9 points and 6.7 assists during conference play.
Junior forward Cole Huff (10.7), junior guard Isaiah Zierden (10.6) and Groselle (10.6) also averaged more than 10 points per game for the Bluejays through the first 31 games of the season.
Milliken ranked second on the team with 10.9 points per game and made 30 3-pointers during Big East play.
The Pirates enter the Big East Tournament winners of nine of their last 11 games.
Whitehead averaged 20.0 points and 5.5 assists during Big East contests. The sophomore scored a career-high 33 points during the Pirates last game on Saturday at DePaul and averaged 26.8 points over the final four games of the regular season.
Three other Pirates averaged double-figure scoring during the regular season.
Creighton and Seton Hall will be the fourth game of the day on Thursday. The action at Madison Square Garden begins at 11 a.m. with top-seeded Villanova and eight-seeded Georgetown.
The Bluejays-Pirates winner will play Xavier or Marquette on Friday at 8 p.m. in a semifinal matchup. The Musketeers and Golden Eagles play at 6 p.m. on Thursday.