Zegarowski, Creighton beat Ohio 72-58 to reach NCAA Sweet 16

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INDIANAPOLIS — Marcus Zegarowski scored 20 points to help Creighton beat Ohio 72-58 on Monday in the NCAA Tournament, securing the program’s first trip to the round of 16 in 47 years.

Damien Jefferson added 15 points for the Bluejays (22-8), the fifth seed in the West Region. They had a cold opening few minutes before the offense – and Zegarowski in particular – got rolling with a strong performance that built a double-digit lead by halftime against an upstart trying to spring a second straight tournament upset.

That lead grew to 21 points in the opening minutes of the second half, and the Bluejays never let the 13th-seeded Bobcats (17-8) get closer than nine from there.

The last time Creighton made it to the regional semifinals, it was 1974 and the tournament field had 25 teams. Now the Bluejays – who survived a close call against UC Santa Barbara in the first round – are advancing to the second weekend, where No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga awaits.

Creighton’s breakthrough comes after a tumultuous few weeks. Coach Greg McDermott received a one-game suspension for making a racially insensitive remark in the locker room to his players after a late-February loss. He apologized multiple times and was reinstated.

Zegarowski finished 7 for 16 from the field with four 3-pointers. He also came up with some key late plays to keep Creighton in control after Ohio clawed back within 65-56. His floater at the 2:04 mark followed by two free throws at 1:03 pushed the margin back up to 13.

Dwight Wilson III scored 12 points to lead Ohio, the Mid-American Conference champion that opened the tournament by bouncing 2019 champion Virginia on Saturday night. But Ohio struggled to knock down shots nearly the entire way, shooting just 32% and 7 for 30 from 3-point range.

And point guard Jason Preston – whose improbable ascent from overlooked prospect was an inspirational story coming out of the Virginia upset – struggled offensively to four points on 1-for-10 shooting, though he had nine rebounds and seven assists.

BIG PICTURE

Ohio: This was the Bobcats’ first NCAA Tournament trip since 2012, when they made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 before losing to No. 1 seed North Carolina. Second-year coach Jeff Boals directed a 62-58 win against the Cavaliers for the program’s third straight first-round win in the tournament dating to 2010, but the Bobcats couldn’t recapture the magic.

Creighton: The Bluejays had never won back-to-back games in the same NCAA Tournament. A first-round win over Texas was all it took to reach the regional semifinals in 1974.

UP NEXT

The seedings wouldn’t make it the biggest upset of the tournament, but Creighton faces a momentous challenge in Gonzaga, which is trying to become the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976.