The familiarity was there. Golden Eagles coach Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defense was not going to surprise the Bluejays. In fact, it was Marquette who often looked confused at Creighton’s defense.
In their third and biggest stirring matchup of the season, No. 4 Creighton seized control early in the second half Thursday and held on, 74-63 over No. 5 Marquette at Madison Square Garden in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.
Creighton (21-10) will meet No. 1 Providence (25-4) in the semifinals Friday.
Creighton may have removed itself from the bubble with the victory and likely will not have to sweat out Selection Sunday any longer. Marquette (19-12) was playing for seeding and will be dancing next week.
Creighton led by 12 with under six minutes left when Marquette guard Darryl Morsell scored seven straight, a comfortable lead narrowing. Marquette’s Greg Elliott finished an and-one to make it 63-61, but that was as close as the Golden Eagles would come.
Creighton went on a 9-2 run to ice the game away.
After a competitive first half in which Marquette was sloppy and Creighton inaccurate, the Bluejays opened up a gap big enough in the second half to qualify as stunning.
Creighton beat Marquette twice in the regular season – once in double overtime and once by a single point – but both games were led by Ryan Nembhard, the Bluejays’ orchestrating point guard. Nembhard was lost for the season on Feb. 23, when he hurt a wrist that required surgery against St. John’s, and Creighton had dropped two of its final three regular-season games without him.
Nembhard was on the bench in a sling but watched his replacement – Trey Alexander (11 points, eight assists) – ably run the offense. Forward Ryan Hawkins, center Ryan Kalkbrenner (14 points) and freshman Arthur Kaluma picked up the scoring slack.
The Blue Jays opened the second half with a 10-2 run for some breathing room, punctuated by a thunderous dunk from Kaluma – with an and-one that posterized forward Justin Lewis – that made it 39-31.
Kaluma, a freshman who had averaged 9.5 points this season, went off for 14 points on 5 of 19 shooting.
Hawkins was the leading scorer with 18, including a big second half from beyond the arc, from where he finished 4 of 7.