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This was the best the Big East has to offer this year.
Two of its three guaranteed NCAA Tournament teams, its two best chances at long runs now that Villanova will be without Collin Gillespie for the rest of the season.
The showdown lived up to the hype, even if the Big East Tournament semifinal between second-seeded Creighton and third-seeded Connecticut was played at the speed of the BQE at rush hour.
Neither team led by more than five points in the second half. The result wasn’t decided until the final seconds. Ultimately, the Bluejays prevailed, 59-56, with an assist from the Garden court.
UConn point guard RJ Cole’s hard fall, which left a wound above his left eye and knocked him out for the final 5:07 of the game, produced an opening. Creighton scored the next seven points to take command. Still, the Bluejays had to survive the final possession.
James Bouknight and Tyler Polley missed potential game-tying 3-pointers in the final seconds for the Huskies (15-7). The Bluejays (20-7) advanced to the title game to face No. 8 Georgetown on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. when they will go for their first conference tournament title in their third try.
Damien Jefferson led Creighton with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Bouknight scored 14 to lead the Huskies.
The first half started with UConn looking like it would run away and hide. It ended with Creighton asserting itself. The Huskies led 13-2 at one point, but trailed by six near the end of the stanza. At the break, Creighton was up 30-26, powered mostly by its defense.
The Bluejays did an exceptional job on Bouknight, who had five points and three turnovers in the first half, and held UConn without a 3-point field goal in five attempts. The Huskies’ big three of Bouknight, Cole and Tyrese Martin scored just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting before the break.
The second half started differently. Cole hit his first shot, a 3-pointer, and UConn got even on a Adama Sanogo basket. From there, the game remained extremely tight. The Huskies had the biggest lead of five after a 3-pointer and two free throws by Polley. Creighton got to 48-all on two Jefferson free throws with 6:25 to go.
Bouknight seemed to get on track shortly afterwards, with a jumper and a three-point play, but he forced a shot and missed the front end of a 1-and-1, leaving an opening for Creighton. The Bluejays took advantage, as Jefferson sank a 3-pointer to make it 53-53 with 3:55 left.
During that stretch, Connecticut lost Cole, who was bleeding from above his left eye after taking a hard fall on a drive. With Cole out, UConn stalled and Creighton built a four-point lead on the strength of a 9-0 run.