PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Creighton did what no other Big East team has been able to do in nearly two years — beat Villanova on its home court.
Denzel Mahoney had 21 points and Mitch Ballock had nine of his 15 points in the second half to help Creighton top the No. 8 Wildcats 76-61 on Saturday.
Ty-Shon Alexander added 16 points and Marcus Zegarowski scored 13 for the Bluejays (17-5, 6-3 Big East), who have won four in a row and avenged a 64-59 home defeat to the Wildcats on Jan. 7.
It was Villanova’s first home loss in the Big East since St. John’s defeated the Wildcats on Feb. 7, 2018, snapping a 16-game home conference winning streak.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “There’s nobody we respect more than Villanova. It’s a heck of a win for our program because of how good Villanova is.”
Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore each had 18 points for Villanova (17-4, 7-2), which had won seven in a row.
“Creighton deserves a lot of credit,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. “They came in here and played a better basketball game. We weren’t that bad; they just played a better all-around game. They did a great job defensively, hit big shots and handled our pressure.”
Villanova trailed by as many as 17 points in the opening half and slowly cut into Creighton’s 12-point halftime lead. The Wildcats got within three, 46-43, on Moore’s 3-pointer with 12:06 to play and again on Gillespie’s layup with 10:22 left that made it 51-48.
But the Wildcats wouldn’t get any closer.
“Our guys locked in and got to some shooters,” McDermott said. “We’ve made some good strides defensively. If you’re going to win on the road in this league, your defense is going to have to travel.”
Villanova shot 36.1 percent (22-for-61) from the field, including 26.9 percent (7-for-26) from 3-point range.
Creighton kept the Wildcats at arm’s length and had a 58-50 advantage with 7:36 remaining on Kelvin Jones’ short turnaround jumper. Then, Ballock, a 45.1 percent 3-point shooter entering, drained a long 3 before assisting Mahoney on a 2-on-1 break to make it 63-50 with 6:05 left.
Villanova answered with the next seven, capped by Moore’s 3 that made it 63-57 with 4:31 to play.
But Ballock nailed a huge 3 from the left corner on a play out of a timeout, putting Creighton up 66-57 with 3:25 remaining.
McDermott called the play knowing that the inbound pass would get to the left-handed shooting Ballock and that it would be tough for Villanova to contest the jumper from that spot.
Ballock did the rest.
“It’s a hard shot to defend, but it’s a very difficult shot (to make),” he said.
And Damien Jefferson then scored six straight points, capped with a one-handed dunk that made it 72-59 and put an exclamation point on the win.
“Over the past few games, we’ve been doing a better job as a whole,” Mahoney said.
BACK IN THE LINEUP
Jermaine Samuels returned to the starting lineup for Villanova after sitting out Tuesday’s 79-59 win at St. John’s with a left foot sprain. Samuels, averaging 11.1 points per contest, had eight points.
Wright said afterward that Samuels was close to 100 percent.
Villanova leading scorer Saddiq Bey, who entered averaging 15.3 points, had just nine points while shooting 4-for-13 from the field and 1-for-5 3-point range.
Creighton led by as many as 17 points in the first half before settling for a 35-23 halftime advantage. Alexander and Zegarowski did the bulk of the scoring for the Bluejays, combining for 22 points. The Wildcats struggled mightily on offense, missing 18 of 28 shots from the field and 11 of 14 from 3-point range.
After taking an early 5-1 lead, Villanova missed nine of its next 10 shots and trailed 18-8 after Mitch Ballock’s 3 with 9:07 left. The Bluejays’ advantage ballooned to 31-14 on Zegarowski’s short jumper with 3:12 left in the half. Moore netted six of Villanova’s points during a 9-4 run to close the half. It was just the fourth time the Wildcats have trailed at the intermission.
Creighton: The Bluejays will begin the second half of conference play at Providence on Wednesday and likely will be ranked in the AP Top 25. Creighton received the most votes (59) of any team not inside the Top 25 last week.
Villanova: The Wildcats had won 12 straight and 37 of their last 40 at the Wells Fargo Center, the 76ers’ home court and Villanova’s home away from home. They have two more games remaining here, Feb. 8 in a highly anticipated matchup against Seton Hall and Feb. 29 versus Providence.
Creighton: At Providence on Wednesday.
Villanova: At Butler on Wednesday.