The most accurate shooting team in the Big East was having a hard time buying a bucket.
So Creighton relied on the other parts of its game to earn a spot in the tournament championship game.
Marcus Zegarowski made two key baskets in a decisive nine-point run late in the second half and the 17th-ranked Bluejays held Connecticut without a field goal over the final six minutes to beat the Huskies 59-56 Friday night in the conference semifinals.
The second-seeded Bluejays (20-7) will play eighth-seeded Georgetown Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in their third Big East final since joining the conference for the 2013-14 season.
“People talk about our offense and how good our offense is, and it’s just really hard to play offense against a team coached by Danny Hurley,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “So, we had to win the game in other ways tonight, and that was on the defensive end and then on the backboards.”
The Bluejays outrebounded UConn 50-33, including 17 offensive rebounds, to make up for 37% shooting. They came in shooting 48.7% to lead the Big East.
“So for us to outrebound a UConn team by 17 I think speaks to the grit and toughness that I have in that locker room as well,” McDermott said.
Down 53-48 with 5:44 left, the Bluejays took over behind Zegarowski. The junior guard started a 9-0 run with a driving layup and capped it with a mid-range jumper that put Creighton up 57-53 with 2:35 remaining.
Trailing by three with 20 seconds left, UConn (15-7) got off three shots on its final possession: James Bouknight missed a 3-pointer off the dribble, but UConn chased down the rebound. Bouknight then drove to the basket, but his scoop came up short. The Huskies batted out another rebound and Tyler Polley had a wide-open 3 to tie from the wing with 5 seconds left and it rimmed out.
“I think that probably just experience in high-leverage games like this in the postseason showed itself the last couple of minutes of an incredibly hard-fought game,” Hurley said.
Zegarowski finished with 13 points and Damien Jefferson led Creighton with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Bouknight, who scored 40 in an overtime loss to Creighton this season, had 14 points to lead the third-seeded Huskies, who were playing in their first Big East Tournament since 2012 after returning to the conference this season.
UConn came in having won five straight and seven of eight. Jefferson said the Bluejays were well aware the Huskies’ return to MSG on a hot streak was a major story line coming into the tournament.
“We’ve got a group chat with like us and the coaches, and they were just sending us tweets about what everybody was saying, who the favorite (was) to win a Big East Conference championship, and everybody was saying it was going to be UConn,” Jefferson said. “We used it as fuel.”
The Bluejays swept three games from UConn this season.
Creighton will look for its first Big East Tournament championship a little more than a week after McDermott was suspended by the school for making racially insensitive remarks to his team. McDermott missed the regular-season finale before being reinstated this week for the tournament.
UConn: The Huskies started fast, jumping out to a 13-2 lead behind Adama Sanogo’s eight points. Sanogo picked up his second foul at the 8:47 mark and sat the rest of the half. Without the 6-foot-9 freshman on the floor, Creighton went to work inside and took a 30-26 lead at halftime. Sanogo finished with 13 points and four fouls.
The Huskies also went the last 4:30 of the game without point guard R.J. Cole, who hit his face on the floor after going down awkwardly on a drive to the basket.
Creighton: Zegarowski struggled to find his groove most of the game against Cole and UConn’s tough perimeter defense. Zegarowski finished 6 for 14 from the field, but Christian Bishop helped pick up the slack with 11 points.
UConn will be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
“This is what the opening game is going to feel like next week and I just think as a program we needed to experience the tension and intensity of a high-leverage game in March,” Hurley said. “We haven’t been in one of those in years.”
Creighton split two games against Georgetown this season.