NEW YORK — With coach Greg McDermott back on the bench after a one-game suspension, No. 17 Creighton cruised into the semifinals of the Big East Tournament with an 87-56 victory against Butler on Thursday night.
The second-seeded Bluejays (19-7) advanced to face Connecticut or DePaul on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Creighton is in the semifinals for the third time since joining the conference in 2013 and first time since 2017.
Damien Jefferson scored 11 points in the first eight minutes and Marcus Zegarowski led the Bluejays with 18.
Bryce Nze had 21 points to lead No. 10 seed Butler (10-15), which trailed by 33 in the second half after edging seventh-seeded Xavier 70-69 in overtime Wednesday night.
McDermott was suspended for the final game of the regular season for making racially insensitive remarks to his players. The 57-year-old coach created a firestorm for twice using the term “plantation” as part of an analogy urging team unity after a recent loss.
The university suspended McDermott indefinitely after he coached the team in a loss last week at Villanova. He missed the season-finale victory at home against Butler on Saturday and was reinstated earlier this week.
Five Black Creighton players explained in a short pregame video Saturday why they were hurt by McDermott’s words. Zegarowski, who didn’t speak in the video, said after the game that McDermott made a mistake but loves and supports all his players.
McDermott’s return went off drama-free as he led his team to an easy victory in a mostly empty MSG, pulling his face mask up and down to periodically give directions.
Creighton scored the first seven points and was never seriously challenged. The Bluejays led by 18 in the first half.
Zegarowski made two 3-pointers within the first two minutes of the second half and Creighton was up by 20.
Butler: The Bulldogs beat Creighton in mid-January at home, but lost the last two meetings by a combined 51 points. Butler finished with a losing record for the first time since 2013-14, its first season in the Big East.
Creighton: The Bluejays’ only real issue came in the first half when Jefferson caught some friendly fire under the basket. He and teammate Alex O’Connell turned into each other and collided face first. Both players went to the floor and stayed there for a few minutes.
Jefferson had a bloody nose. O’Connell came away in better shape, but both left the game to get checked in the bench area. Blood had to be mopped from the floor where Jefferson went down. He re-entered after the under four-minute timeout with a big white wad of what appeared to be gauze or tissue plugging his right nostril.
Didn’t seem to bother him much. Jefferson dropped in a corner 3 with 1:18 left in the half to make it 42-24.
Creighton was a combined 3-0 against UConn and DePaul this season, beating the Blue Demons twice.