The No. 22 Creighton men’s basketball team got a signature win on Tuesday night, knocking off No. 9 Wisconsin 79-67 in the 2016 Gavitt Tipoff Games at the CenturyLink Center.
The Jays improved to 2-0 on the season with the win, while the Badgers fell to 1-1.
The Bluejays got out to a blazing start, as a freshman center Justin Patton made a layup to start off the scoring. Junior guard Marcus Foster followed that with 3-pointers on back to back possessions to push the Jays out to an early 8-0 lead.
Wisconsin — a veteran team fueled by star power — was not fazed. Preseason All-American selection Nigel Hayes would string off 8-straight points to tie the game up at 11.
Creighton senior guard Isaiah Zierden hit a 3-pointer to give the Jays an 18-14 lead with 12:23 left in the first half.
The Badgers would respond by rattling in four 3-pointers en route to a 14-2 run that gave them a 28-20 lead, which would be their largest of the evening.
The Jays responded with a run of their own, as senior point guard Maurice Watson hit back-to-back jumpers and junior forward Zach Hanson scored on a couple of post moves to bring the Jays back in the game.
Creighton would end the second half on a 13-2 run and headed into the locker room with a 33-30 advantage over the Badgers.
The most noticeable difference between the Badgers and Jays was size. Although Creighton played a 7-foot tall Justin Patton for 29 minutes, there were times in the game where the Badgers were bigger and taller than the Jays.
The size difference between the Badgers and Bluejays was evident in the first half, as the Badgers outrebounded the Jays 25-15. The Badgers also had 10 offense rebounds in the first half. However, Creighton was able to maintain a first half lead thanks to its offense, as the Jays shot 46.7 percent in the first 20 minutes.
The close game continued into the second half, as the Jays and Badgers exchanged blows and the lead changed often. Sophomore Khyri Thomas shined for the Jays in the second half, scoring 15 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes of the game.
After the Badgers tied the game at 50-50 with 9:09 left, the Jays got hot. Patton made a pair of baskets in the paint, sophomore forward Toby Hegner and senior forward Cole Huff both hit jumpers, and Thomas followed by scoring a three-point play and converting on the free throw. On the next possession, Thomas hit a 3-pointer to give the Jays a 63-52 lead with 6:28 to play.
The Badgers would battle back late in the game, shrinking the Jays’ lead to five with 1:21 to play, but Creighton made its free throws to fight off any attempt of a comeback.
Creighton topped off their victory with an emphatic two-handed slam by Patton in the open court to give the Jays a nine-point lead with 29 seconds to play. On the next possession, Thomas stole the ball from Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig and followed Patton’s example with an emphatic slam of his own.
Thomas led the Jays with 18 points on 6 of 8 shooting, four rebounds and 2 steals in 24 minutes. Watson added 17 points on 5 of 13 shooting and 10 assists in 38 minutes. Patton, who had a strong game defensively, added 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.
Creighton compensated for its lack of size by throwing double teams at the Badgers every time the ball went down low. This defensive tactic limited Wisconsin to only 20 points in the paint for the game.
Although the Jays shot 50 percent from the field for the game, coach Greg McDermott credited Creighton’s defense, especially their success double teaming in the post, for the win. Creighton allowed Wisconsin to shoot just 41.3 from the field.
“Nobody forces Wisconsin into 16 turnovers, nobody keeps Wisconsin off the free throw line,” said McDermott. “To our guys’ credit, we were able to active with those post double teams.”
The players gave a lot of credit to a sold-out and raucous CenturyLink Center crowd for helping them pull off the victory.
“Our crowd was crazy today. We were all working off of adrenaline down the stretch,” said Patton. “The crowd kept our adrenaline high and we just got the job done for them. We’re proud to have them behind our backs.
The Jays couldn’t have asked for a much better start to their season than getting a signature win over the No. 9 team in the nation and a Wisconsin program that has been to two Final Four rounds in the past three years.
“That’s a heck of a win,” said McDermott. “You could argue that it might be the best win we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Creighton returns to action on Friday night as the Jays travel to the Virgin Islands to take on Washington State at 7:30 p.m. in the first game of the Paradise Jam.