OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A Creighton season that was beginning to head in the wrong direction righted itself in glorious fashion for at least one afternoon.
The Bluejays came into their game against No. 3 Villanova on Saturday having lost three straight in the Big East. Starting forward Ronnie Harrell Jr. was out of the lineup because of a foot infection, and they were down eight points with 4½ minutes left in regulation.
With Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas leading the way and two freshmen making major contributions, Creighton came back to defeat the highest-ranked opponent in program history with its 89-83 upset of the Wildcats in overtime.
“Sitting in the locker room, I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Foster, who scored 28 points. “I’m so happy how we won that game. We’ve been talking these last three games about how we want to play, and then to go out and execute what we said we wanted to do, it’s a great feeling right now.”
Creighton (20-9, 9-7 Big East) won for the first time in nine games against Villanova since 2014. The Bluejays also avenged a 20-point road loss to Villanova on Feb. 1.
“We always get a great game from Creighton, especially here,” Nova coach Jay Wright said. “You know on the road in this league you’re going to play in great environments against great teams. You have to be one step ahead of them to win on the road, and we weren’t today. They were one step better.”
Villanova (25-4, 12-4) had taken a 68-60 lead in regulation thanks to eight straight points from Jalen Brunson, but the Wildcats missed seven of its last nine shots in overtime as Creighton tightened its defense.
Davion Mintz scored on his own putback to put the Bluejays ahead 78-76, and Jacob Epperson made it a four-point game with two free throws with 1:45 left in the extra period.
Brunson lost control of the ball under his basket on the Wildcats’ next possession, and Phil Booth committed a flagrant-1 foul before Mitch Ballock scored for Creighton to make it 84-78.
“I’ve had some good wins over the course of my career, and I’ve coached some special teams,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as proud of a group as I am right now. If you’re going to be successful against Villanova, you can’t turn it over and give them run-outs, you have to find a way to hang in there on the boards and you have to have toughness. We did all three good enough.”
Khyri Thomas made five straight 3-pointers in the first 11 minutes to set a career high and finished with 24 points. Ballock added 13 and fellow freshman Epperson had all 12 of his points after halftime.
Brunson led the Wildcats with 22 points, Mikal Bridges had 18 and Omari Spellman added 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Ballock’s 3-pointer gave Creighton a 72-71 lead with 30 seconds left in regulation, and Thomas went to the free-throw line with a chance to put the Bluejays up by three.
But he missed the free throw, and Donte DiVincenzo was fouled on the rebound. DiVincenzo made one of two free throws to tie it 72-all, and the game went to overtime when Bridges blocked Foster’s layup try just ahead of the buzzer.
“I told them at the start of overtime, ‘You get to play five more minutes in the greatest game of your life,'” McDermott said.
Villanova: The Wildcats are 3-3 in their last six games and are one game behind Big East-leading Xavier with two regular-season games left.
Creighton: Thomas’ early barrage of 3-pointers created energy the Bluejays lacked in their last three conference games, and Epperson’s big second half and overtime showed they just might be able to overcome the season-ending injury to big man Martin Krampelj.
McDermott said he found out at 9 a.m. Saturday that Harrell had come down with a foot infection that will require a few days of antibiotic treatment. He said he’s hopeful Harrell will be ready for the Bluejays’ next game, against DePaul on Tuesday.
Before Saturday, Creighton had been 0-14 all-time against teams ranked among the top three. The previous highest-ranked opponents beaten by the Bluejays were Villanova in February 2014 and Arizona State in December 1963. Both were No. 4. … The Bluejays have won 20 games for the 18th time in 20 years. … Villanova, which matched its school record with 19 3-pointers against Creighton in the 98-78 win three weeks ago, was 12 for 39 from distance. … Wright, with 411 wins at Villanova, remains two behind program leader Alexander Severance, who won 413 games from 1936-61.
Villanova visits Seton Hall on Wednesday. The Wildcats won the first meeting 92-76 on Feb. 4.
Creighton hosts DePaul on Tuesday. The Bluejays won the first meeting 76-75 on Feb. 7.
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