UConn men’s basketball couldn’t overcome a slow start to grab the program’s first-ever win over the Creighton Bluejays, falling 64-62 to Greg McDermott’s squad on the road in Omaha. While the Huskies came back to life and tied the game twice with a strong second half, Creighton never trailed and jumped ahead of UConn (21-8, 12-6 Big East) for third place in the Big East standings.
The Huskies have one regular season game remaining — a home matchup against DePaul at Gampel Pavilion for senior day on Saturday. UConn can reclaim third place by beating the Blue Demons and if Creighton drops their home game against Seton Hall, but can’t finish any worse than fourth.
Creighton took advantage of a rowdy dollar-beer-night home crowd and jumped on UConn from the tip, getting out to a 7-0 lead. The Huskies looked out of sorts offensively, and McDermott’s decision to play well off Andre Jackson and Isaiah Whaley on offense flustered the Huskies early on.
Defensively, UConn wasn’t any better. The Huskies had no answer for Arthur Kaluma, who had all 15 of his points in the first half, including 10 of Creighton’s first 19. With Kaluma hitting from inside and out, the Bluejays led 19-10 eight minutes in.
The Huskies also had to fight through a rash of injuries late in the first half, as Adama Sanogo dislocated a finger on his left hand with nine minutes left, but returned three minutes later. UConn also saw injuries to Tyler Polley, Tyrese Martin and Jordan Hawkins in that span.
Polley and Martin would return, but Hawkins was ruled out for the second half after running hard into a screen near half court and was evaluated for a concussion, the second time in as many games he has had to exit due to a potential head injury.
Despite the injury to Sanogo, the sophomore big still recorded a double-double with 13 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks. Martin also scored in double figures with 11 points before fouling out with 19 seconds to go. Jackson added five points on the night, but was 0 for 6 from beyond the arc. The six 3-point attempts were the most the sophomore has attempted in a game this season.
Creighton continued to hit from all over, as the Bluejays shot nearly 52% from the field in the first half and led by as much as 16 with four minutes to go in the first 20 minutes. UConn managed to finally snap out of its funk after the under-4 timeout, finishing the half on a 6-0 run with some relentless defense that made it 34-24 at halftime.
Despite the break, the Huskies kept the momentum going to start the second half, ripping off a 12-3 run to pull within one point with 15 minutes to play after a midrange floater from RJ Cole. Cole led UConn with 20 points on 9 of 20 shooting, including some tough buckets late to keep the Huskies within striking distance.
But for every punch UConn threw, Creighton big man Ryan Kalkbrenner was able to counter, as the 7-foot sophomore scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half to prevent the Huskies from ever taking the lead.
After Cole’s bucket cut the lead to one, Kalkbrenner answered with two baskets of his own to extend the lead to five. When Cole answered with seven points in just over 90 seconds, and a steal and score from Jalen Gaffney made it 48-48 with 9:16 left, Kalkbrenner answered again with a dunk to go up two, then scored all four of the Bluejays’ ensuing baskets to give them a 58-53 lead with barely three minutes to play.
While UConn’s bigs are renowned for their agility and ability to hedge hard on ball screens, Kalkbrenner took advantage in the final 20 minutes by routinely slipping quickly to the basket before UConn’s defender on the ball handler could adjust, resulting in a slew of easy dunks and layups for the big man. Another dunk off a slipped screen with one minute left put Creighton up 60-55 and put the game out of reach for good, despite the Bluejays shooting just 4 of 7 from the free-throw line in the final minute and some late game heroics from Tyler Polley.