The Creighton men’s basketball team battled back from a 14-point deficit and junior forward Cole Huff had a career-performance, but Seton Hall’s guard combo stole the show.
Khadeen Carrington and Isaiah Whitehead combined for 51 points to lead Seton Hall to an 81-73 victory over the Buejays in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Pirates will play Xavier in the semifinals on Friday night at 8 p.m.
Carrington scored a career-high 27 points, including five 3-pointers.
“We’ve just been working with [Carrington] a little bit just to be a little bit more aggressive without being too fancy,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “Sometimes he likes to get a little loose with the basketball. I thought tonight he was great. I thought he was aggressive. I thought he was efficient. And he made some big shots for us.”
Whitehead finished with 24 points and converted on 12 of 15 from the free-throw line. He also recorded a double-double with 12 rebounds.
“We probably expected Whitehead to perform at the level he performed tonight,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He’s played as well as anybody in the country right now.
"But Carrington was the difference.”
Huff paced Creighton with a career-high 35 points with 11 field goals, including seven 3-pointers.
“I don’t think he could’ve played better than he did today,” junior guard Malik Albert said. “He was scoring a lot, rebounding defensively. I think he did everything for us.”
Huff’s 35 points tied Doug McDermott's school-record for points in a Big East Tournament game. McDermott had 35 in a 2014 quarterfinal win vs. DePaul.
After trailing by nine points at the half, Huff scored seven of the Bluejays’ first nine points following halftime to cut the lead to two, 41-39.
“I think I had a lot of shots they weren’t expecting,” Huff said. “My teammates and coaches did a great job of drawing up plays and getting me open.”
Creighton forced a missed shot from Whitehead on the next Seton Hall possession, but the Pirates collected a team offensive rebound and Carrington hit a jumper to put the lead back to four.
Huff and Carrington traded baskets again before senior guard James Milliken hit a running jumper to make it 45-43 with 15:42 to play.
The Bluejays had a chance to tie or take the lead after two missed opportunities by Seton Hall, but Albert recorded an offensive foul on the fast break.
The Pirates extended the lead to five, but Creighton continued to fight back.
Trailing by only one after a layup by Milliken, Albert collected his third steal of the game and gave the Bluejays a chance for the lead.
The junior raced down court and made a contested layup to give the Bluejays a 52-51 advantage with 11:24 to play, their first lead since being ahead 10-8 four minutes into the first half.
Albert tied a career-high with 20 minutes and finished with two points, two rebounds and three steals.
The Detroit native saw extended minutes with junior guard Isaiah Zierden hindered by a shoulder injury.
“The main thing I’m thinking about is stops and trying to bring intensity on the defensive end,” Albert said. “I think I got us going a little bit with the steals and Maurice [Watson Jr.] kept the pace going and James hit a big shot and Cole hit a lot of big shots.”
Creighton did not lead for long.
Seton Hall responded with a 12-3 run capped by a Carrington 3-pointer to put the score at 63-55 with 7:38 to play.
“Carrington’s willingness to shoot the three probably surprised me,” McDermott said.
Creighton countered with an 8-0 to tie the game at 63, but the Bluejays did not take the lead during the final 11 minutes on Thursday.
Huff made his final 3-pointer of the game to tie the game at 66 and senior center Geoffrey Groselle converted a contested jump hook in the lane to tie it at 73, but Seton Hall answered each time.
Carrington hit a jumper before the Pirates’ lone senior, Derrick Gordon, made an uncontested 3-pointer to ignite the Madison Square Garden crowd and make it a 71-66 game with 2:06 to play.
Gordon's 3-point field goal was just his 12th of the season.
“Derrick has been trained just to catch and drive and that’s always his first instinct,” Willard said. “We all have confidence in him. He stepped in and knocked it down.”
Once again, Creighton refused to quit as Milliken hit all three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point try and Groselle tied it with 1:10 to play.
Carrington responded with his 10th made field goal of the night to put Seton Hall ahead with less than a minute to play.
Trailing 75-73, Creighton called a timeout to draw up a play.
Seton Hall disrupted the possession and knocked the ball of bounds, forcing a throw-in from under the Bluejays’ basket.
Junior guard Maurice Watson Jr. in-bounded the ball from the baseline and tried to slip a pass to Milliken on the left post, but a Seton Hall defender knocked the ball free and Carrington recorded a steal.
“I feel like James had the step and the only way he wouldn’t get a hand on the ball was if they foul James, now whether he did foul him or not I don’t know, but maybe I could have thrown a bounce pass,” Watson said. “But that was the drawn-up play and I have to deliver that basketball better.”
The Bluejays’ still had their opportunity to tie the game or take the lead as Gordon missed two free throws following a foul by Watson, but Groselle fouled Whitehead on the rebound.
The unanimous All-Big East First Team selection made both free throws before blocking Watson’s layup on Creighton’s next possession and sealing the victory with two more makes from the free-throw line.
Carrington ended the game-closing 8-0 run with a pair of free throws.
“They made their runs [and] we made our runs,” Carrington said. “It just happened that we made the last run at the end.”
Seton Hall led by 14 points during the first half before Creighton scored 10 of the final 15 points before the break to cut the lead to single digits.
Huff led the Bluejays with 15 points in the first half on 5 of 7 shooting from beyond the arc.
The Pirates shot 50 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes and held a 27-12 rebounding advantage.
Seton Hall finished the game 50.9 percent shooting (28 of 55) and had 45 rebounds compared to Creighton’s 25.
Milliken finished with 18 points and Groselle scored 12, but only five different Bluejays recorded points.
Watson, Creighton’s leading scorer during the season, had six points and six assists in a team-high 38 minutes of action.
Thursday’s quarterfinal loss dropped the Bluejays to 18-14 and ended their chances of a bid into the NCAA tournament but still have an opportunity at a spot in the NIT postseason tournament.
“I really want another shot to show those guys how much they mean to me and how much they appreciate and me and how much I want to fight for them,” Watson said. “God-willing we get another opportunity to get to play and I’m going to make the best out of it.”
Creighton will find out on Sunday night whether or not it will continue its season.
“I’d love to play one more and I think the group would too,” Albert said.