Creighton hits 21 threes in a rout of No. 4 Villanova

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PHILADELPHIA — Creighton can beat anyone in the country.

It’s not even debatable at this point, not after the Bluejays went into the Wells Fargo Center and beat No. 4 Villanova 96-68.

Let me repeat that in case you missed it: Creighton beat the No. 4 team in the country — a team with wins over No. 8 Kansas and No. 10 Iowa — by 28 points on the road. When you think about it like that, there may not be a more impressive win by anyone in the country this season.

It’s not just the fact that Creighton blew the Wildcats out, either. It’s how they did it. They hit their first nine three pointers, seven of which came in the first six minutes from 6-foot-7 sniper Ethan Wragge. They finished with 21 threes, a Big East record, and at one point were up by 40 points. Wragge? He finished with nine, which tied a school record set by none other than Kyle Korver. Save for a couple of possessions at the end of the first half, when the Wildcats were able to cut the lead down to 13 points, Villanova was never in this game.

“That was one of the more incredible things I’ve ever been a part of as a coach,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said.

Simply put: Villanova didn’t stand a chance. No one does when the Bluejays shoot the ball like they did tonight.

It’s ludicrous to expect this kind of performance on a nightly basis. They aren’t going to hit 21 threes every time out, but it’s important to remember that they don’t need to hit 21 threes every game. I know this math doesn’t actually work this way, but hear me out: If Creighton only made 12 threes, they still would have won this game by a point.

The key?

Wragge and all-american Doug McDermott. They are Creighton’s starting big men, which creates all kinds of matchup problems for Bluejay opponents. McDermott is a problem all by himself. He’s the best player in the country, good enough that scoring 23 points on 13 shots wasn’t an overly impressive performance. He moves without the ball, he spreads the floor with his ability to shoot from three and he’s as good as anyone in the country at sealing his man in the post. In other words, it’s very, very difficult to find a player that can matchup with him.

Wragge, on the other hand, plays the five. He’s guarded by opposing centers, but how many centers are accustomed to defending a guy that simply cannot be given any space? How many centers know how to locate a spot-up shooter in transition?

“Most centers aren’t used to having to chase a guy at the three-point line or in transition,” Coach McDermott said.

Creighton has two of those guys.

What ends up happening is that opposing defenses simply cannot help off of either of those two, which creates all kinds of space in the paint. Creighton’s guards aren’t exactly all-americans, but they are good enough that get past their man off the dribble. When they do, they either get a shot around the rim or draw a help-side defender, and Creighton, who may be the most unselfish team in the country, is as good as anyone at swinging the ball and finding the open man.

“When you let a good shooting team get hot, you’re in trouble,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.

So yes, like I said, Creighton can beat anyone in the country.

But keep in mind, this performance came just 48 hours after the Bluejays were waxed at Providence, so while they are a very dangerous team on the nights that their threes are dropping, they are susceptible to getting knocked off when they don’t shoot as well.

And they aren’t always going to shoot this well. It’s just not possible. This was a once-in-a-career kind of performance from the Bluejays. The last time a team hit 21 threes in a game against a Division I opponent? November of 2007, when No. 4 Louisville pulled the feat off against … Hartford.

That doesn’t even touch on the issues they will have defensively. Wragge may be a matchup nightmare for opposing big men, but those same big men lick their chops when they see Wragge defending them. He can be overpowered in the post. As good as McDermott is, he’s never been known as much of a defender, either. In the press conference after the game, Coach McDermott gave more lip service to the fact that his team was terrific defensively in the first half than he did his team’s shooting performance. Much of that is coach-speak, but it’s rooted in fact.

“The way we defended those first seven or eight minutes allowed to create some separation,” he said.

The bottom line is this: on the nights that McDermott and Wragge are hitting their threes, the Bluejays will be able to hang with anyone. On the nights that they defend, they’ll be able to hang with anyone.

When it all clicks, they go up 40 in the No. 4 team’s home arena. On the nights none of it clicks, they’ll trail Providence by 20.

So don’t be surprised when this isn’t the last time the Bluejays leave you scratching your head after a game.

Cameron Johnson ending his slump is big for No. 15 North Carolina

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When it comes to the long-term hopes of No. 15 North Carolina, not only to win the ACC but to also be a national title contender, the play of veterans Joel Berry II and Luke Maye will be critical.

Rated among the best in the country at their respective positions, Berry and Maye entered Tuesday’s game against No. 20 Clemson averaging a combined 35.6 points per game.

Yet it would be two other Tar Heels, Kenny Williams III and Cameron Johnson, who combined to do the damage that dropped the visiting Tigers to 0-59 all-time in Chapel Hill. North Carolina won 87-79, holding off a Clemson squad that shot 61.3 percent from the field in the second half due in large part to the work done in the first half.

While both Maye and Berry II were kept quiet in the first half, Williams (12 points) and Johnson (eight) combined to score 20 points in the stanza. Johnson would finish the game with 21 points, the most that the Pitt transfer has scored in a North Carolina uniform, and Williams would add 15 as Roy Williams’ team moved to 4-2 in ACC play.

Berry (17 points, four assists), Theo Pinson (12 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and Maye (11 points, four rebounds, five assists) all performed better in the second half, making it possible for the Tar Heels to hang on despite being challenged by a team that made ten of its first 11 second-half shots.

Williams and Johnson have proven themselves to be capable supplementary scorers this season, with the former averaging just over 12 points per game on the season and the latter at 9.7. But in the case of Johnson, following up his 2-for-10 effort in Saturday’s win over Notre Dame by shooting 7-for-10 from the field (6-for-9 3PT) is a needed bounce-back effort.

Prior to Tuesday night, Johnson reached double figures just once in the four games prior (14 vs. Boston College) and shot a combined 3-for-16 from three. Getting Johnson back on track is a big deal for North Carolina, and if his performance against Clemson can serve as a spark that would certainly bode well for the Tar Heels moving forward.

A productive Johnson affords Roy Williams the luxury of playing a “small” lineup in which Johnson mans the four and Maye the five. This North Carolina team isn’t like past editions in the Williams era, as many of those squads possessed the ability to have two “true” big men on the court at all times. With the big men lost from last year’s national title team, it’s been Maye carrying much of the load with freshmen Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley both looking to work their way into the fold.

A consistent Johnson not only makes North Carolina better, but it’s also a necessity given the team’s available options.

As for Clemson, this game felt like one of the program’s best chances to finally pick up that elusive win in Chapel Hill. Brad Brownell’s group entered the game with a 15-2 record, and with the improvements both in the post (Elijah Thomas) and on the perimeter (Marquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell) this is a group that has some staying power.

But Reed, Mitchell and forward Donte Grantham got off to frigid starts, combining to score two points on 0-for-13 shooting from the field in the first half. Despite the first-half efforts of Thomas the hole was too deep to climb out of, with Clemson pulling to within two on multiple occasions in the second half. Reed got hot in the second stanza, finishing the game with 21 points, and Mitchell would add 18 points to the effort.

Now 1-1 halfway through an important four-game stretch — Notre Dame next, followed by a trip to Charlottesville to take on No. 2 Virginia — when it comes to their NCAA tournament seeding prospects, Clemson paid the price for its inability to knock down shots in the early going. But in their comeback, the Tigers put forth a performance along the lines of what they’ve managed to do for much of this season to date.

Unfortunately for Clemson, its supplementary scorers were unable to match the production of Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams III.

VIDEO: Kentucky coach John Calipari shows long-range skills during shootaround

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Kentucky coach John Calipari’s shooting touch is still there, even from long range.

The Hall of Famer proved that during Tuesday’s shootaround before the No. 18 Wildcats faced South Carolina in a late-evening Southeastern Conference contest. In a video posted on his official Twitter account, Calipari stepped up and drained a basket from center court to his players’ surprise.

The coach smiled as he walked off the court, showing the swagger and confidence he seeks from another young roster of freshmen and sophomores.

Then again, one key to a coach getting what he wants from players is showing them how it’s done.

No. 3 Boilermakers keep rolling by blowing out Badgers 78-50

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Vincent Edwards scored 21 points and Carsen Edwards added 20, leading No. 3 Purdue to a 78-50 blowout over Wisconsin on Tuesday night.

The Boilermakers (18-2, 7-0 Big Ten) have won 14 straight overall, 19 in a row at home and have matched the best 20-game record in school history. The only other time Purdue did that was 1987-88 when it also won its first seven conference games.

Ethan Happ had 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds to lead the Badgers (9-10, 2-4). Wisconsin has lost three straight — all on the road.

But they were never in it Tuesday.

Purdue made its first four 3-point attempts to jump out to a 12-0 lead, and then things got even worse for the Badgers.

Wisconsin needed more than 7 1/2 minutes to make a basket, and then the Boilermakers continued to pour it on.

Purdue extended the lead to 36-16 before the Badgers finally fought back to get within 39-22 at the half.

The second half was a virtual replay when Purdue’s first three baskets were again all 3s. And when Vincent Edwards drove in for a layup with 16:59 to go, the Boilermakers led 50-29.

Wisconsin cut the deficit to 16 with 14:50 to go, then allowed a 10-2 run to make it 62-38.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: Tuesday night’s performance looked very non-Badger like. They struggled to score, struggled on defense, got into foul trouble, couldn’t get to loose balls and had 15 first-half turnovers. They’re young, and, yes, they were playing their third straight road game. But they need to improve greatly.

Purdue: The Boilermakers just keep rolling along. They’ve held 11 straight opponents under 70 points, have made at least 10 3s in six of their last seven games and have won their last two by a combined 62 points. It’s hard to imagine Purdue playing much better.

KEY STATS

Wisconsin: Finished with a season high 20 turnovers. The Badgers’ previous high was 15. … Nobody other than Happ scored more than eight points or made more than two baskets. … The Badgers are 0-5 against ranked teams this season, each coming from a different conference: Xavier (Big East), Baylor (Big 12), UCLA (Pac-12), Virginia (ACC) and Purdue.

Purdue: P.J. Thompson scored 14 points and Carsen Edwards had five rebounds and four assists. … Purdue was 14 of 22 on 3s, giving them 10 or more in six of its last seven games. … The Boilermakers have held 11 straight opponents to fewer than 70 points. … Purdue is 17-0 on American soil.

No. 12 Cincinnati beats UCF 49-38

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Gary Clark scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to help No. 12 Cincinnati to a 49-38 victory over Central Florida.

Jacob Evans added 10 points for the Bearcats (16-2, 5-0 American Athletic Conference), who won their ninth straight game.

UCF (12-6, 3-3) got seven points apiece from Tacko Fall, Terrell Allen and Dayon Griffin, but struggled the entire game to get inside the Bearcats defense. UCF shot just 30 percent for the game and committed 14 turnovers.

It was expected to be a defensive game and both teams played up to that for the entire 40 minutes.

Cincinnati, which has suffered slow starts in its last three games, overcame this one by using speed in transition to beat the Knights down the court. That was especially effective when Fall, UCF’s 7-foot-6 center, was on the bench, which he was when Clark made a layup to put the Bearcats ahead for good at the 13:40 mark of the second half.

Clark’s basket was the start of a 10-2 run that gave Cincinnati a 38-30 lead.

UCF made a brief run when Fall got six straight points on two dunks and a layup to cut the deficit to 39-36, but the rally died when the Knights center missed two free throws on the next possession.

Clark took an alley-oop pass and slammed it home at the other end to push Cincinnati’s lead to 45-36 with 3:52 left in the game and UCF never got closer.

VIDEO: Chris Silva posterizes Kentucky’s Wenyen Gabrial

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Chris Silva is quietly having an excellent season for South Carolina, and while the struggles of the Gamecocks have left that somewhat under the radar, this dunk on Kentucky was anything but.