INDIANAPOLIS — Butler coach LaVall Jordan challenged Aaron Thompson on Saturday. The senior guard responded just as Jordan envisioned.
Thompson scored 17 points, found Bryce Nze for the go-ahead layup with 68 seconds left in overtime, and played shutdown defense late to help the Bulldogs overcome a 13-point deficit and upset No. 8 Creighton 70-66.
“It’s the one we won today, so it’s the most satisfying (win) we’ve gotten,” Thompson said. “It was just about our energy. Coach got on us about changing our attitude, and then we kind of flipped the script on them.”
Thompson played nearly 41 minutes in his third game back from a sprained knee. The Bulldogs (4-7, 3-5 Big East) needed every ounce of energy he had – especially after falling into a 58-45 deficit with 7:38 left in regulation.
But Thompson steadied the defense and his teammates took the cue.
After missing 14 consecutive shots, the Bulldogs answered with a 17-2 run to take a 62-60 lead on Thompson’s slicing layup with 57.4 seconds left in regulation. Denzel Mahoney, who scored 23 of his season-high 29 points in the second half, made two free throws for Creighton to tie the score with 36.6 seconds to go.
Butler had three chances on the final possession of regulation to win it but missed all three shots.
“Aaron Thompson was phenomenal,” Jordan said. “He did a great job of battling in the first half and we put him on Mahoney (in the second half) because he was in a good rhythm and Aaron did a good job on him. Guys just gave an effort, the proper effort.”
Creighton (10-3, 6-2) scored the first two baskets of overtime and looked like it might pull away for its seventh consecutive win.
Instead, Thompson righted the Bulldogs and when he found Nze open in the post with 50.9 seconds to play, the Bulldogs had the lead – and a critical win.
“I thought we understood what we had to take away from Butler, but obviously Thompson got us and Nze had a couple of back-breakers,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said. “Give Butler credit, they played a heck of a game.”
Creighton: The Bluejays looked like they would pull away in this one when they extended the margin to 13. But instead of putting it away, they gave it away. Mahoney’s flagrant foul late in regulation opened the door for Butler, and the Bluejays never really recovered. Starting point guard Marcus Zegarowski missed his second straight game with a hamstring injury.
Butler: It’s been a rough year. First, a COVID-19 outbreak shut down the program for more than two weeks following a season-opening win. Then the Bulldogs lost Thompson, their catalyst, for three weeks with the knee injury. No, they’re still not full strength, but this victory should give them some momentum.
Creighton will probably slide a little bit. While the Blujays are unlikely to match – or exceed – their highest ranking in the Associated Press poll in school history this week, they will remain one of nine schools that have been ranked in each of the past 15 AP polls.
IN AND OUT
Butler guard Chuck Harris scored 10 points Saturday after missing the previous game with a bruised knee. But the Bulldogs announced before the game forward Markeese Hastings, a redshirt sophomore, is taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons. Jordan provided no additional details. Hastings was averaging 0.5 points in 9.6 minutes.
Creighton: Damien Jefferson scored 12 points and Christian Bishop had 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. … The Bluejays shot 56.0% from the field in the second. … Creighton has lost four straight at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Butler: Thompson also had six assists. … Nze had 15 points and eight rebounds. Freshman Myles Tate had 15 points, 10 rebounds and a key 3-pointer in overtime. … The Bulldogs had seven turnovers after having a season-high 20 in Tuesday’s loss to St. John’s.
Creighton: Welcomes Providence to Omaha, Nebraska, on Wednesday for the first of two straight home games.
Butler: Visits DePaul on Tuesday in the first meeting between the teams this season. The December contest was postponed.