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Creighton’s firepower too much for Villanova in 87-74 Big East Tournament quarterfinal loss

The Bluejays never slowed down once they got going.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Creighton vs Villanova Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a day makes.

After shooting the lights out against rival Georgetown, the Villanova Wildcats cooled off against the Creighton Bluejays in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

They were unable to keep up with Creighton’s firepower, especially in the second half, where the Bluejays pulled away with an improved shooting performance to win 87-74.

“Creighton came out, played extremely hard and got us on our heels,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “...The first half, I thought defensively actually wasn’t that bad. I thought they got out in transition a little bit too much, but then as we had to play catch-up and they got loose a little bit because we were trying to play catch-up. I don’t think (our defense) was that bad, but I’ll take a look at the tape.”

Every Big East Tournament quarterfinal game on Thursday had some some sort of comeback, and the final game of the night was no different.

Unfortunately for Villanova, though, it put on its rally cap a bit too late.

The ‘Cats, once trailing by 20, during a scorching second-half by the Creighton Bluejays, used a quick 11-point flurry that helped them trim the deficit down to single digits.

That would be the closest they would get to catching Creighton.

“The job we did defensively in the first half and then the start of the second half was awesome,” Creighton coach Gregg McDermott said. “They fought back, but we were able to stretch it to 18 and hang on for dear life.”

Compared to their previous meeting a few weeks ago, where the Wildcats clipped the Bluejays’ wings, Creighton was able to seemingly do whatever it wanted after a low-scoring first half for both teams.

Creighton struck in transition and its entire starting five logged at least 12 points. The Bluejays’ ball movement was impressive, especially once Ryan Kalkbrenner got going inside, they were able to operate inside-out.

As a team, Creighton shot 28-of-56 overall (50.0%) and 12-of-25 (48.0%) from the three-point line.

The ‘Cats also saw improved shooting numbers in the second half, like a 9-of-18 showing (50.0%) from beyond the arc, but the Bluejays’ lead was too great to overcome.

With the Wildcats eliminated from the Big East Tournament, their NCAA Tournament hopes are virtually gone as well.

Villanova drops to 17-16. While it had been a crazy year, Neptune isn’t at a point to reflect on it yet.

“I’m going to have to take some time to evaluate that and take a deep breath,” Neptune said when asked for his thoughts on the year. “The game right now is a little too raw. I’ll come back and do some meditation on that when the season is over.”

Kalkbrenner led the ‘Jays with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting, and two blocks. Ryan Nembhard finished with 17 points, five boards and five assists. Arthur Kaluma had 18 points. Trey Alexander had 13 points and seven boards. Baylor Scheierman nearly had a triple-double, logging 12 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.

For Villanova, Eric Dixon had a team-high 20 points, with seven rebounds. Brandon Slater and Caleb Daniels each had 17 points. Justin Moore had 13 points and seven assists.

“This was a team that dominated us a couple weeks ago in Philadelphia,” McDermott said. “I told Kyle after the game, the job he’s done navigating all the injuries, guys coming back and losing guys — that’s hard for a coach. I’ve done it 35 years. It’s his first year, he did an unbelivable job. ... Villanova’s not going anywhere. They had a lot of adversity this year. That program is here to stay.”