NEW YORK (AP) — Arthur Kaluma scored 17 points and keyed an overwhelming blitz that sent Creighton to a stunning 85-58 rout of No. 11 Providence and into the Big East championship game Friday night.
Alex O’Connell had 18 points and Ryan Kalkbrenner added 15 points and nine rebounds as the fourth-seeded Bluejays (22-10) reached their fourth conference final since joining the league before the 2013-14 season.
They are still looking for their first Big East Tournament title.
Trey Alexander scored all 15 of his points after halftime for Creighton, which has all but wrapped up an NCAA Tournament bid by winning nine of 11 down the stretch. Particularly impressive, the Bluejays are 4-2 since losing point guard Ryan Nembhard, the Big East freshman of the year, to a season-ending wrist injury.
The surprising Bluejays, picked eighth in the Big East preseason poll with no starters back from last year’s Sweet 16 squad, will play eighth-ranked and second-seeded Villanova or 20th-ranked and third-seeded UConn for the crown Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Al Durham had 21 points on a rare miserable night this season for the top-seeded Friars (25-5), who won their first regular-season conference championship after 43 years in the Big East as a charter member.
It was the most lopsided defeat for a No. 1 seed in Big East Tournament history.
The game was tied at 25 late in the first half before Kaluma, one of three Bluejays on the Big East all-freshman team, scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that put Creighton in control for good. He started the spurt with a three-point play and capped it with a 3-pointer off his own steal.
The Bluejays, who ranked first in the Big East in field goal percentage defense (40%) and second in scoring defense (67.5 ppg) during conference games, went into the break ahead 42-27 after holding Providence to 28% shooting and 2 for 12 from 3-point range.
Playing with swagger, Creighton stormed out of halftime, too, scoring the first 14 points as Friars coach Ed Cooley called three timeouts in the first four minutes. Two free throws by Durham finally stopped the 19-0 surge spanning halftime and drew a Bronx cheer from the Providence-heavy crowd.
By the time the onslaught was over, the Bluejays had outscored Providence 31-2 in about 10 1/2 minutes and 35-4 to build a 60-29 cushion.
Providence center Nate Watson, who bullied Butler down low for a season-best 26 points in the quarterfinals, managed only five on 2-for-7 shooting in a one-sided matchup with the 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner, the Big East defensive player of the year.
In their only previous matchup this season, Providence clinched the Big East regular-season crown with a 72-51 blowout of Creighton before a frenzied home crowd on Feb. 26.
“We played them on a night when I’m not sure the Golden State Warriors could have went in there and won,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said Thursday. “That place was electric. And the town was rocking. And they kind of pounced on us late in that first half. We weren’t really able to get our footing.”
The other scheduled meeting was canceled because of COVID-19 protocols. But the rematch was much different.
“Our guys have a lot of pride,” McDermott said.
Providence starting guard A.J. Reeves was shaken up and wobbled off the court after a colliding with Creighton forward Ryan Hawkins with the Bluejays up by 29 and 8:49 remaining.
Creighton: Since joining the Big East for the 2013-14 season, the Bluejays are 4-0 in conference tournament semifinals but 0-3 in championship games, including a blowout loss to No. 8 seed Georgetown last year.
“‘Just haven’t been able to kick the door down and win a Big East championship,’” McDermott said he told Hawkins recently.
Providence: The nature of this lopsided loss will fuel critics who say the Friars have been fortunate to win so many close games. But it’s been a scintillating ride through the Big East during one of the greatest seasons in school history, and now they can sit back and celebrate a fairly high NCAA Tournament seed come Selection Sunday.
Creighton split two games against Villanova early in the regular season, with the home team winning by a wide margin each time.
The Bluejays swept UConn, including a 64-62 victory at home March 2.
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