OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - What Jay Wright called Villanova’s best defensive performance of the season masked another poor offensive night for the 16th-ranked Wildcats.
Collin Gillespie was the only ‘Nova player to find any rhythm against Creighton, but the defense clamped down late and allowed the Wildcats to win 64-59 on Tuesday night, ending their six-game Big East road losing streak dating to last season.
Gillespie and Saddiq Bey made back-to-back 3-pointers to give Villanova the lead for good in the final four minutes, and the Wildcats slowed the tempo and forced crucial turnovers in the second half to complete a comeback from a 14-point deficit.
“That’s what we do,” Gillespie said. “That’s Villanova basketball. Coming into an opponent’s arena, staying 94 by 50 feet with your brothers and coaches and knowing there are going to be ups and downs and they’re going to go on runs. Battle for 40 minutes. We did a pretty good job of that today. We got down early but we battled back and just stole the game.”
The Wildcats (11-3, 2-1 Big East) ended Creighton’s 15-game home win streak and denied Bluejays coach Greg McDermott his 500th career win. Creighton (12-4, 1-2) has lost two in a row, both to ranked opponents.
Gillespie finished with 24 points and was by far the Wildcats’ best shooter, making 8 of 10 from the field, 4 of 5 from 3-point range. His teammates were a combined 15 for 51, including 2 of 28 on 3s. Bey had 11 points, Jermaine Samuels added 10 and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 14 rebounds.
Gillespie got a cramp in his left foot in the second half and limped to the bench for a timeout. He ended up playing all but one minute.
“We were going to keep him in there,” Wright said. “He’s a killer. He’s a Villanova guard. He’s an absolute assassin.”
The Bluejays, whose offensive mantra is to “Let It Fly,” attempted a season-low 14 3-pointers and made just three. The Wildcats’ defense was designed to take away Creighton’s perimeter shots, and that freed up big man Christian Bishop to score 16 points.
Gillespie’s 3-pointer from the right wing put the Wildcats up 55-54 with 3:37 left, their first lead since it was 1-0. Mitch Ballock answered with a 3 on the other end for Creighton, but Bey then hit the same spot as Gillespie to give Villanova the lead for good.
Bey blocked a Marcus Zegarowski shot before Gillespie scored inside the lane. The Wildcats finished off Creighton at the free-throw line, and the Bluejays missed eight of nine shots during a stretch late in the game.
Villanova: The Wildcats are playing three freshmen and three sophomores in their rotation and are still developing their identity. This was a gritty road win, the product of a strong defensive effort. The shooting still needs work. They’re shooting 24.9 percent on 3s (46 of 185) over the last six games.
Creighton: The Bluejays are tough at home, and they’ll be kicking themselves for letting this one slip away.
Sorry, Creighton. Since the reconfiguration of the Big East in 2013, none of the six regular-season conference champions have dropped below .500 at any point in league play.
HE SAID IT
“Villanova has never been a team to beat themselves, and they still aren’t. It’s like death by paper cut after paper cut after paper cut. Finally you bleed to death.” - McDermott.
Villanova hosts Georgetown on Saturday.
Creighton visits Xavier on Saturday, continuing a stretch in which it plays three of four on the road.
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