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The zone slowed the pace to Providence’s benefit and gave Creighton all sorts of fits in the first half.

“They did a good job. That zone is tough. I don’t think we were really expecting zone. I thought we were kind of panicking almost to start the game, and rushing stuff and not making the extra passes,” said McDermott, fifth on the Division I scoring list with 3,105 career points. “Got to give them credit. That zone kind of threw us off to start the game.”

Cotton, the senior guard who finished second to McDermott in the conference scoring race but also was a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection, was the star of the championship game and was selected tournament MVP.

McDermott, who came in averaging 26.5 points, finished 10 for 19 from the field, including 5 of 12 from 3-point range, for 27 points. He shined in his first two Big East tournament games at Madison Square Garden, scoring 35 in the quarterfinals against DePaul and 32 in the semifinal win over Xavier.

He had nine points at halftime as Providence held the Bluejays (26-7) to a season-low 17 points in taking a nine-point lead.

“I think the guys were trying to do a little too much. It’s a big stage. There’s a lot on the line. I think part of that’s human nature,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, father of the two-time All-America selection. “Again, the credit goes to Providence. Their plan was solid. We didn’t hit shots early, so they were able to stay with that defense.”

Providence led by 12 twice in the second half, the last time at 45-33 on a jumper by Kadeem Batts with 12:47 left.

The Bluejays got as close as 58-56 on McDermott’s final 3 with 1:18 to play. But the Friars held on from the free throw line, going 8 for 8 over the final 2:47 while scoring just once from the field.

“It turned out that the start of the game was too much to overcome with a team that was controlling the tempo,” Greg McDermott said. “When we had to play from behind all night, it really was to their advantage.”

Providence had caused problems for Creighton before. The Friars held the Bluejays to 4 for 19 from 3-point range in an 81-68 victory in January. McDermott had it figured out in the rematch, scoring a career-high 45 in his last home game just a week ago. The Friars took the advantage back when it mattered most.

The Bluejays, who enjoyed vocal crowd support and didn’t trail in the tournament until this game, won the last two Missouri Valley Conference titles before leaving. The defeat ended Creighton’s streak of winning 10 straight conference championship games. The last one it lost was to Tulsa in overtime in the 1984 Missouri Valley title game.

Despite this defeat, Greg McDermott said the Bluejays will celebrate Sunday when they find out where they’re headed in the NCAA tournament.

“I joke with my boss, who’s on the committee, that all I want is a good seed against a bad team in warm weather,” he said, drawing laughs. “I didn’t think that’s too much to ask.

“Once our name’s called, it’s time to get to work. We need to use maybe some of the problems we had today as motivation to make sure we’re a better team on Thursday or Friday than we are today. I’m confident this group will do that.”