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.
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.
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.