Junior Marcus Zegarowski knew he’d have teammate Christian Bishop galloping toward the rim for a potential winning shot ahead of the final buzzer.
The savvy point guard just had to move the defense first.
So the Jays’ floor general — poised and purposeful, despite the near-disastrous late-game collapse by CU — caught an in-bounds pass and raced downcourt.
Providence had just tied the score with seven seconds left. Creighton's double-digit lead was gone. The Friars' bench was roaring.
Zegarowski was in control, though.
He picked up his dribble at the edge of the paint. He scanned the floor as he pivoted. And then he made the pass that’ll surely prove to be one of the most important assists of the season.
Zegarowski found a trailing Bishop, who’d never quit running after taking the ball out. The unguarded Bishop secured Zegarowski's pass, took two steps and slammed home the winning dunk with 0.8 seconds left to secure a dramatic 67-65 win for No. 11 Creighton.
“I saw Christian trailing me so in my head, I’m thinking, I’m going to go attack (Bishop’s defender),” Zegarowski said. “The key was to bring (the defense) in. Christian was trailing me at the perfect time. He timed it great. I just saw him in the corner of my eye and flipped it back to him.”
The incredible sequence, unfolding over seven seconds of game time, made up for the assortment of miscues down the stretch that left the Jays in that perilous position right at the end.
A lane violation with 2:41 left gave Providence an extra point at the free-throw line. Bishop couldn’t convert a layup on an in-bounds play. Senior Denzel Mahoney missed the front-end of two different one-and-ones in the final 30 seconds.
CU twice turned the ball over against the press — the second one came when the score was 65-63 with 14 seconds left. Damien Jefferson’s foul on a free-throw rebound was the reason why the Friars had two foul shots to pull within two right then. It was forward Noah Horchler who tied the game at 65-65 with a driving bucket.
“We made some mistakes late,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Some uncharacteristic mistakes by some pretty veteran guys.”
But McDermott complimented the resilience of the Jays (8-2, 4-1), who found a way to win yet again.
If they're able to repeat as Big East champions, they'll surely look back at Saturday's thriller as a pivotal moment. It marked their fourth straight victory. The past three wins have come by a total of nine points, and CU’s shot under 43% in each of them.
“It wasn’t pretty — it isn’t right now,” McDermott said.
Creighton did find its rhythm offensively for a substantial stretch in the first half, though. That’s when the Jays flipped the game’s momentum.
CU outscored Providence 25-10 during the nine minutes before halftime, a span that included a decisive 15-0 run.
The Friars committed five straight turnovers at one point — Jefferson was everywhere, deflecting one pass, intercepting two more and finishing with a career-best six steals.
Senior Mitch Ballock hit four 3-pointers during the surge. He launched two from the center-court logo, including one right at the first-half buzzer.
“Defense led to some offense there,” McDermott said. “Things came a little easier and that gave us a little momentum.”
It didn’t last. Providence (7-4, 3-2) crawled back late, erasing a 12-point deficit in the game’s final few minutes even though point guard Jared Bynum was sidelined with injury.
Creighton couldn't put the game away. Mahoney’s leaner snapped a string of six straight empty possessions, pushing CU's advantage to 65-59 with two minutes left. But the Jays missed three shots and two free throws from there.
The lead evaporated, rather suddenly. That's when Creighton turned to its star.
Zegarowski had made timely buckets throughout the game. He buried six 3-pointers and finished with 20 points. It was last season in Omaha that his pull-up 3-pointer beat Providence at the buzzer.
But Zegarowski decided not to force up a jumper at the end this time. He made the key pass instead.
McDermott said it was an “unbelievable play” by Zegarowski.
“That was huge,” senior Damien Jefferson said during a postgame interview with the Big East Network.
Bishop flexed and screamed after the emphatic dunk, hopping and skipping his way down the court as the referees blew their whistles to check the video replay.
Said Zegarowski: “Christian made a hell of a play to win the game for us.”
Creighton will return to action Wednesday when it hosts Seton Hall.