On a night in which neither team made more than 30 percent of its shots, Providence’s National Player of the Year candidate made a game-winning shot with all zeros showing on the clock.
Point guard Kris Dunn launched a step-back jumper from just beyond the left elbow over Khyri Thomas which bounced off the back of the rim, hit the front of the rim, and fell through the basket to beat the buzzer, stun the CenturyLink Center Omaha crowd and give No. 12 Providence a 50-48 victory over Creighton on Tuesday night.
“We sent him to the left which we wanted to do -- he’s so explosive going the other direction,” coach Greg McDermott said, “and we had our longest defender on him. It was a challenged shot, but again, he’s an incredible player.”
Dunn, the preseason Big East player of the year and NBCSports.com Midseason Player of the Year, had 16 second-half points and 20 points overall to lead all scorers.
“In the end, what could be the player of the year took over,” coach Greg McDermott said.
Defensive dominated the action in Omaha and both teams totaled their season low in points scored as the Friars made 29.6 percent of their shots from the field (16-of-54) and the Bluejays made only 25.8 percent (17-of-66).
The cold shooting started from the opening tip as Providence missed its first 10 shots and Creighton made only one of its first 12 attempts from the field.
Junior guard Isaiah Zierden had the only points of the opening six minutes with a 3-point field goal from the right corner.
Sophomore forward Toby Hegner gave the Bluejays some life offensively with three consecutive made 3-pointers and junior forward Zach Hanson followed Hegner’s performance with six-straight points to give the Jays a 19-7 advantage, their largest lead of the game.
Hegner led Creighton with 11 points.
Providence clawed its way back. Jalen Lindsey’s 3-pointer with 2:48 remaining in the first half capped an 11-2 lead to trim Creighton’s lead to three.
The Bluejays held the Friars scoreless over the final two and a half minutes and extended its lead to 25-18 at halftime.
Creighton (12-6, 3-2 Big East) shot a mere 22 percent from the field in the first half, but also held Providence (15-2, 3-1) to only five made field goals and 18 percent.
With Thomas as the primary defender, the Bluejays held Dunn to 1-of-9 from the field and only four points in the first half.
“He’s one of the best players in college basketball and I couldn’t have been more proud of the job we did on him in the first half,” McDermott said. “It’s a team defense -- you don’t guard Kris Dunn with one guy. Obviously one guy has a lot of responsibilities, but the help behind him is really important as well.
“We were able to do something nobody else has been able to do against him all year long, defensively, and for that I’m very proud of my team because that gave us a chance. Without that, on a night like tonight when our offense is as bad as it was, we get blown out of this place on our own floor.”
After taking a 7-4 lead on a Hegner 3-pointer, Creighton led until the 4:29 mark of the second half when Providence forward Ben Bentil, the Big East’s leading scorer, converted a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 43.
Watson committed a turnover on the ensuing Creighton possession and Dunn gave Providence its first lead of the game with a pair of free throws.
Dunn made 1-of-2 foul shots following a Watson foul to extend the lead to three, 46-43, but senior forward Geoffrey Groselle broke free on the left side of the basket during the Bluejays’ next trip to cut the lead to one.
Creighton forced a shot-clock violation on the Friars’ next possession and had a chance to take the lead but came up empty.
“We had the effort there on defense; we just weren’t able to capitalize on offense,” Hanson said. “It’s tough to win games when you don’t do that.”
Bentil responded with a thundering second-chance dunk to give Providence a 48-45 lead.
“Our leadership pulled us through in the end with Kris and Ben,” Providence associate head coach Andre LaFleur said.
Zierden missed an open 3-point attempt from the top of the key to tie the game, but came up with a steal to give the ball back to the Bluejays.
Watson had another opportunity at the rim, but his layup fell off the side of the rim. Groselle appeared to snare the offensive rebound but was called for a foul.
“This was a typical, slug-it-out, physical Big East basketball game,” McDermott said. “There weren’t many calls at the rim -- either way -- and we have to do a little better job of finishing through that contact.”
The teams traded missed free throws before Milliken hit his second of two attempts to cut the lead to two, 48-46, with 44 seconds to play.
Following Milliken’s free throw, Providence called timeout to set up a play for Dunn, but Watson came up with a steal and converted a layup to tie the game with 11.8 seconds on the clock before Dunn closed the game with his fadeaway at the buzzer.
“The reality of it is we held the No. 12 team to 50 points in 68 possessions; if you would have told me that I would have said we were going to win the game,” McDermott said. “They were tough and strong and had a will defensively as well and we just couldn’t quite make enough plays.”
The Bluejays suffered similar losses last season. Creighton lost eight conference games when leading during the final minute, but, on Tuesday, Providence became the first opposing team in CenturyLink Center Omaha history to overcome a 12-point deficit.
“Every loss hurts, but the difference between feeling bad about it and learning from it is the difference we need to make,” Hegner said. “We have to learn from our mistakes, correct them, and move on.”
Creighton returns to action Sunday afternoon on the road against DePaul. Tip-off between the Bluejays and Blue Demons is scheduled for 12:01 p.m.