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Creighton’s key defensive stops set up an exciting finish

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Long Beach State is going to have to win its league’s automatic bid if it want to make the conference tournament.

That’s just the way life is for the 49ers. Their two marquee wins — at Pitt and Xavier on a neutral court — don’t appear to be all that “marquee” as the Panthers and the Musketeers have had disappointing seasons. LBSU will have a good shot of running through their league undefeated, but when you play in the Big West, that is a feat that gets scoffed at on a national scale. Anyone can watch this team play and know that, assuming they get upset in their conference tournament, they are one of the 37 best at-large candidates, but if the profile doesn’t fit, the NIT it is.

But that should also give you a sense of just how impressive Creighton’s exhilarating, 81-79 win over Long Beach State on Saturday night was.

The Bluejays did not play their best game. That powerhouse offense, the one that is spurred on by a flock of sharpshooters, sputtered on Saturday. Creighton went 5-23 from beyond the arc, getting bailed out by Doug McDermott going for 36 points and 11 boards. Take away the 14-20 that he shot from the field, and the Bluejays shot just 40% from the floor.

When you rely on your shooting to win basketball games, off-nights like this can be killer. Creighton knows. Its why they went on that three-game losing streak earlier this month.

I’m a firm believer in the “clutch-factor”. I think there are certain players and certain teams that have the mental and physical wherewithal to make plays in the moments when the lights shine the brightest and the pressure is at its strongest. And while that generally applies to the offensive end of the floor — like, for example, the fact that Antoine Young hit the game-winner on Saturday two weeks after hitting a game-tying three at Northern Iowa with 4.6 seconds left — Creighton needs to be clutch defensively.

What I mean is that this group needs to be able to get big stops in crucial moments. From an efficency standpoint, Creighton is not a great defensive team. They don’t force a lot of turnovers and they don’t block a lot of shots. In other words, they don’t have a lot of defensive playmakers. As a result, they have a defense that ranks below-average.

The Bluejays score enough that they can hang with just about anyone in the country. What their season is going to come down to, however, is whether or not they can get the big stops in the big moments.

They’ve done it before. They did it tonight. And if they can continue with that trend, Creighton will have a chance to make some noise in March.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: