Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The rim of a basketball hoop has an 18-inch diameter. The way Creighton was shooting the ball against Villanova on Monday night, it must have looked somewhere around 18 feet.
“That was one of the more incredible things I’ve ever been a part of as a coach, the start of that game,” said Creighton head coach Greg McDermott, who’s taken two different programs to the NCAA Tournament.
Not many fans at the Wells Fargo Center–there for college or professional basketball–could say they’ve seen a shooting performance like that the Bluejays put on in the opening minutes against the Wildcats.
Creighton opened the game up on fire and never cooled down, setting a new school and Big East conference record with 21 3-pointers in a 96-68 rout of No. 4 Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center.
Creighton (16-3, 6-1 Big East) came into the game as the second-best 3-point shooting team in the country and almost immediately showed why. Ethan Wragge hit his first six attempts from beyond the arc as the Blue Jays opened the game 9-for-9 from 3-point range, sprinting out to a 19-point lead before it seemed like the Wildcats could even get their feet under them.
“My teammates do an unbelieavble job of once I get one, they know I’m hunting for two and three,” Wragge said. “It’s a hard feeling to describe once you get one going, but you just let it fly and don’t think about it. You’ve got to shoot it to make it, so you just let them go.”
“Probably equally important was the way we defended over the first seven or eight minutes, to create some separation early,” McDermott added.
It would be seven minutes before Jahenns Manigat became the first Creighton player to miss on a long-distance shot, eliciting a large cheer from the pro-Nova crowd of over 14,000 at the usual home court of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.
Then it was right back to business, with the lead expanding to 47-19 on a 3-pointer by freshman Isaiah Zierden with 7:12 in the first half. The Bluejays would score more points by halftime (54) than Villanova had allowed in three entire games this season.
“They were outstanding,” Wright said. “We’ve had some games where we haven’t been on top of it, but we didn’t execute well defensively, they executed extremely well offensively and they were just really on top of their game. Getting behind a team like that, the way they move their ball and with their quickness, was really tough to overcome.”
Wragge would finish 9-of-14 for a career-high 27 points, taking all of his shots from beyond the 3-point arc. That would tie a Creighton record for most 3-pointers in a game, matching the total hit by NBA sharpshooter and former 76er Kyle Korver back in 2003.
Creighton senior Doug McDermott, a two-time AP All-American, would finish with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting for the Bluejays, while Manigat had 19 on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers.
(Bellino: McDermott embracing return to school)
Villanova (16-2, 5-1 Big East) would close to within 15 at the half, but it was false hope for their fans. While it looked like the Wildcats were building momentum for a strong second-half push, instead it was Creighton who would regain all the momentum coming out of the locker rooms.
“We felt good, we really did,” Wright said about his team’s chances to start the season half. “They came out, they hit shots, I thought the first possession of the second half we got a great stop, we didn’t rebound it. Second possession we got another stop, didn’t rebound it.
“Right there I could just tell we weren’t ourselves, and you’ve got to still try to fight through that but when you’re down 13 and they’ve already established they’re shooting the ball like that, we had to get those two stops.”
Villanova was paced by senior forward James Bell, who had 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting; JayVuahgn Pinkston (11 pts) and Darrun Hilliard (10 pts) joined him in double figures. The Wildcats shot 10-of-29 (34.5 percent) from the 3-point arc and 23-of-58 (39.7 percent) overall.
It was certainly a bounce-back game for the Bluejays, who lost 81-68 at Providence on Saturday, shooting just 4-of-19 (21.1 percent) on 3-pointers in that loss. Wragge was just 2-of-8 in that game.
“This was a big opportunity for our team, we did not want to go 0-2 on this road trip and we wanted to compete for the first-place spot in this league,” Wragge said. “It was a huge opportunity for our team and we had to step up to the moment.”
The loss ended a five-game winning streak for Villanova, who will try to get another one started on Saturday with a tough three-game road trip: Marquette, Georgetown (Jan. 27) and then at Temple (Feb. 1).