It was a battle filled with knockdown blows and streaky runs, but ultimately, the Creighton Blue Jays bested the Ohio Bobcats on Monday evening at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, advancing to the Sweet 16 by a final score of 72-58.
The Bobcats cruised to an early 5-0 lead in the first three minutes, and managed to keep up the advantage until the 10:44 mark in the first half, when Marcus Zegarowski sunk the first of his four three-point shots to put the Jays ahead 13-11. From there, Ohio’s Lunden McDay tied the game up, and both teams went back-and-forth delivering shot after shot in quick succession, sinking four three-pointers on consecutive possessions.
The turning point came at the 5:20 mark in the first half, when Denzel Mahoney sunk a two-point jump shot to give Creighton a 25-22 lead, sparking a 14-2 run to end the half and go into the half with a 17-point lead. Zegarowski was a major contributor to the run, with six points on two shots, while Mahoney and Damien Jefferson both contributed four points apiece.
Ohio had plenty of chances at coming back in the game in the second half, as Creighton posted two scoring droughts of three-plus minutes apiece, but the shots simply didn’t fall in the Bobcats’ favor. After falling behind by as much as 21 points at the 14:44 mark, Ohio was able to within 11 points, but their propensity for turnovers haunted them, as they gave up 14 turnovers, which very often turned into points on the other end, most notably on a highlight reel dunk by Creighton’s Christian Bishop with 6:25 remaining which all but took out the wind out of the sails for any Bobcat comeback.
Ohio guard Jason Preston, who America fell in love with over the weekend after his admirable performance vs. Virginia in the first round, uncharacteristically struggled, finishing the game with only four points on 1-of-10 shooting, including 0-3 from three-point range. He wasn’t non-existent, however, as he picked up nine rebounds and seven assists to help aid the effort.
Other contributors for Ohio included Dwight Wilson III, who led the team with 12 points, Lundon McDay (11 points, two assists) and Ben Roderick (10 points, six rebounds) and Ben Vander Plas, who was one point short of a double-double, nabbing nine points and 10 rebounds.
For the victorious Blue Jays, it was Zegarowski who led the game with 20 points and also had five assists and three rebounds. All five of Creighton’s starters scored in the double-digits, as Damien Jefferson (15 points, five rebounds, three assists), Denzel Mahoney (11 points, three rebounds two assists) and Mitch Ballock (10 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals) all had solid contributions. Christian Bishop was the dynamo that helped the offense go, collecting a double-double with 12 points (on 6-of-7 from the floor) and 15 rebounds.
The victory gives Creighton their first Sweet 16 appearance in modern program history, and they will face #1 overall seed Gonzaga on March 28.
The Ohio Bobcats will finish the 2020-21 season at 17-8 overall (9-5 MAC,) after recording their first NCAA win since 2012.