by Rob Anderson, Creighton Athletics
Two free throws with 16.0 seconds left by Christian Bishop helped fifth-seeded and 19th-ranked Creighton escape 12th-seeded UC Santa Barbara, 63-62, on Saturday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium in the First Round of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Creighton (21-8) will advance to a game on Monday against the winner of tonight’s Ohio/Virginia match-up. UCSB ends its season as Big West regular-season and Tournament champs with a 22-5 record.
CU won the tip and opened the game with a three-pointer by Denzel Mahoney. UCSB would make seven of its first eight shots (and tip in the miss) to take a 16-8 lead and prompt an early Greg McDermott timeout. Mahoney answered with the next five points to bring CU back within three points at 16-13 after eight minutes.
After playing behind for much of the first half, Creighton finally hit its stride late in the first half, taking the lead on a pull-up jumper in transition by Marcus Zegarowski with 1:47 left to go up 27-26. A Jefferson lay-up preceded another Zegarowski triple. A circus shot at the buzzer by Zegarowski sent the Bluejays to the locker room holding a 34-30 lead. CU had 11 assists and just four turnovers in the first half and were led by 11 points and four assists from Zegarowski. Bishop helped keep CU in the game early with nine points (including three dunks) to accompany seven rebounds.
UCSB was paced by seven points each by JaQuori McLaughlin and Miles Norris, but the Gauchos offense stagnated in the final 6:40 after big man Amadou Sow went to the bench with his second personal foul. UCSB started 7-for-8 from the field before going 4-for-16 down the stretch and held a 17-15 rebound edge at the break.
Creighton started the second half with some variety as all five starters scored in the first seven minutes to help Creighton’s lead reach double-figures (47-37) for the first time with 13:32 left on a traditional three-point play by Mitch Ballock.
UCSB didn’t fade, countering with a 13-2 burst to retake a 50-49 lead with just under 10 minutes to go on a mid-range jumper by McLaughlin before a Mahoney three-ball from the corner snapped UCSB’s 10-0 run and a nearly four-minute scoring drought. UCSB used another 8-0 run to go up 58-52 on a contested three-pointer by McLaughlin with 5:37 remaining.
Just when its hopes looked bleak, a score inside by Jefferson and a three-ball in transition by Ballock brought the Bluejays within one at 58-57 with 4:02 to play. After a defensive stop CU took the lead on a reverse jam from Bishop that made it 59-58 with 3:08 to go. A jumper by Zegarowski with 1:39 left made it 61-58, CU. A hoop by Sow inside with 1:16 left trimmed the CU lead to one.
After a Bluejay miss, Sow was fouled with 37.9 left and made both to give UCSB a 62-61 advantage. The Bluejays used a full timeout with 33.6 to go to set up a look for Jefferson. His try rimmed out but Bishop grabbed the rebound and he was fouled with 16.0 left. Bishop, a 57.1 percent shooter, made both and the Jays withstood a point blank miss inside by Sow in the final five seconds. CU’s Shereef Mitchell hauled down the rebound and was fouled with 1.5 seconds left. The Jays would miss the free throw but a 70-foot heave by Brandon Cyrus was off the mark as Creighton advanced.
Zegarowski had 17 points and eight assists, Bishop had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Mahoney finished with 13 points as Creighton improved to 5-1 in games decided by three points or less this year. It was also CU’s first one-point NCAA Tournament win since an 83-82 double-overtime win vs. Florida in 2002.
McLaughlin and Norris each scored 13 points for UCSB, which had won 18-of-19 games entering the afternoon.
NOTES: Creighton senior Mitch Ballock made his 100th overall and 100th consecutive start … Creighton has made a three-pointer in 911 straight games, and a trifecta before halftime in 282 consecutive contests …Marcus Zegarowski’s three-pointer at the 16:04 mark of the first half was his 21st straight game with a three-pointer (T-9th longest in CU history) and the 206th of his career to tie Jahenns Manigat for eighth in CU history … Christian Bishop had Creighton’s first NCAA Tournament double-double since Doug McDermott (30 points, 12 rebounds) vs. Louisiana in 2014 … Creighton has won 22 straight games when holding opponents to 69 points or less … Creighton’s 21 victories are four more than any other team in the BIG EAST … Creighton picked up its first NCAA Tournament victory since 2014, improving to 13-22 all-time in the event as a program … Creighton won for the 14th time in a row in the game immediately following a loss of 20 or more points … The victory was Greg McDermott‘s 400th career Division I win (251 at Creighton, 59 at Iowa State, 90 at Northern Iowa) … Greg McDermott improved to 4-5 as Creighton’s head coach in the NCAA Tournament, breaking a tie with John “Red” McManus for most NCAA Tournament wins in program history … Creighton improved to 141-54 all-time as a nationally-ranked team …Creighton has won at least one game in 10 of its last 12 trips to the postseason.