Maurice Watson Jr.

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Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 12 Miami, No. 18 Purdue win thrillers at home

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 18 Purdue 82, No. 8 Michigan State 81 (OT)

The Spartans and Boilermakers produced a highly entertaining game in West Lafayette, with Matt Painter’s team finding a way to pick up a critical one-point win. Rapheal Davis scored 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Boilermakers, and A.J. Hammons was excellent in the post. The senior center finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots. As Rob Dauster notes, this was a huge win for a team that was in danger of falling to seventh in the Big Ten standings.

Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double with 27 points, eight rebounds and ten assists, but he was made to work for those points (10-for-23 FG). But he needed more help from Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris, who combined to score ten points on 4-for-19 shooting.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 6 Kansas 75, No. 10 West Virginia 65: Kansas got some revenge on the Mountaineers, who won the first meeting between the two teams in Morgantown last month. Perry Ellis scored 21 points and Landen Lucas added nine points, 16 rebounds and four blocks to lead the way for the Jayhawks, who forced a three-way tie atop the Big 12 with the win. The front court play and Kansas’ offensive execution and balance are what won the game for Bill Self’s bunch.

No. 12 Miami 65, Pittsburgh 63: The Panthers, in need of another quality win, fell short as a result of their inability to box out Miami’s Angel Rodriguez on the game’s decisive play. Rodriguez managed to work his way in between three Panthers to tip in a missed shot with 1.4 seconds remaining to give the Hurricanes the win. Rodriguez finished the game with 17 points, eight assists and just one turnover.

Creighton 70, No. 5 Xavier 56: The Bluejays picked up a huge win for their NCAA tournament hopes while also dropping the Musketeers two games behind No. 1 Villanova in the Big East standings. Maurice Watson Jr. was outstanding at the point for Greg McDermott’s team, finishing with 32 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Xavier’s biggest issue was making shots: they shot 1-for-21 from beyond the arc and 30 percent from the field on the night. And that may have cost them a shot at the Big East title.

BUBBLE BANTER: Pitt’s missed chance and Creighton’s big win

STARRED

A.J. Hammons, Purdue: Hammons finished Purdue’s overtime win over No. 8 Michigan State two blocks shy of a triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks.

Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton: 32 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals in the Bluejays’ win over No. 5 Xavier.

Angel Rodriguez, Miami: 17 points, eight assists, one turnover and the game-winning tip-in with 1.4 seconds remaining as the Hurricanes beat Pittsburgh.

STRUGGLED

Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris, Michigan State: Forbes and Harris scored ten points combined, shooting 4-for-19 from the field, in a one-point overtime loss at No. 18 Purdue.

Xavier from the perimeter: The Musketeers shot a stunning 1-for-21 from three in their loss at Creighton.

Kale Abrahamson and Ore Arogundade, Drake: They combined to score six points on 2-for-14 shooting in a blowout home loss to No. 25 Wichita State.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Playing their first-ever game as the nation’s top-ranked team, No. 1 Villanova took control from the start of their 86-59 win at DePaul. Josh Hart led five Wildcats in double figures with 18 points, and Villanova forced 18 DePaul turnovers on the other end.
  • No. 2  Maryland stepped outside of Big Ten (and Division I) play, and they did what was expected in taking care of Division II program Bowie State 93-62. Rasheed Sulaimon scored 16 points in 20 minutes of action, as Mark Turgeon was able to get his key guys some rest ahead of the stretch run.
  • No. 7 Virginia has now won seven straight games, as they beat Virginia Tech 67-49 in Charlottesville. Anthony Gill scored 16 points and Isaiah Wilkins 14 for the Cavaliers, who limited the Hokies to 35.6 percent shooting on the night.
  • No. 19 Dayton erased a ten-point second half deficit, closing the game on a 19-5 run as they beat Duquesne 76-74. Charles Cooke led the way with 22 points and eight rebounds for the Flyers, who won despite Duquesne getting 48 points from Micah Mason (27) and Derrick Colter.
  • No. 22 Kentucky rolled to an 84-48 win over Georgia, as the Bulldogs struggled mightily offensively. Mark Fox’s team shot 22.4 percent from the field and at one point went more than 13 minutes without a field goal. As for Kentucky, Jamal Murray scored 24 points and Tyler Ulis added 14 and eight assists as they won their second straight.
  • No. 25 Wichita State rebounded from its loss at Illinois State over the weekend with a 74-48 win at Drake. Gregg Marshall’s team used a familiar formula: offensive balance (eight players scored six points or more) and stifling defense (Drake shot 25 percent from the field).

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • Cincinnati rebounded from its loss at Memphis with a 69-51 win at UCF. Kevin Johnson scored 13 points as the Bearcats blew the game open in the second half after leading by a point at the break.
  • Akron has now won seven straight, as they beat Bowling Green 83-68 to move to 9-2 in MAC play (20-4 overall). Antino Jackson scored 20 points and Reggie McAdams and Isaiah Johnson added 15 apiece for the Zips.
  • Monmouth retained its one-game lead atop the MAAC with an 87-61 win at Marist. Justin Robinson and Micah Seaborn scored 16 apiece for the Hawks, who have won their last six games.
  • Ohio State snapped its two-game losing streak with a 71-63 win over Northwestern, which has lost six of its last seven games. Five Buckeyes scored in double figures, led by freshman guard JaQuan Lyle (16 points, six rebounds).
  • Two Galal Cancer free throws with 7.5 seconds remaining gave Kent State a 75-74 win over Northern Illinois. The Golden Flashes remain two games behind Akron in the MAC East standings as a result of the win.

Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton take care of No. 18 Butler

AP Photo/Nati Harnik
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With No. 4 Villanova still the class of the Big East, three teams are tied for second in the conference with matching 5-2 league records. No. 5 Xavier and Georgetown were both fancied as contenders before the season began, so their presence in that glut comes as no surprise (even with the Hoyas’ issues in non-conference play). The third team with a 5-2 record: the Creighton Bluejays, who Saturday night took care of No. 18 Butler 72-64 in Omaha.

Greg McDermott’s team had incredibly bad luck in tight games a season ago, with nine of their losses coming by five points or less. But their fortunes have changed for the better in 2015-16, and a big reason why is the presence of redshirt junior point guard Maurice Watson Jr.

Watson, who sat out last season after transferring in from Boston University, was the catalyst for Creighton Saturday night. He accounted for 18 points and five assists in the second half, taking advantage of Butler’s perimeter defense in many ball-screen situations. Of the 43 second half points Creighton scored Watson played a role in 30 of them, and he was responsible (either by scoring or assisting) for ten of the Bluejays’ 11 made field goals.

Not mentioned among the best point guards in the Big East when the season began, game by game Watson’s proving that he belongs in the conversation. And that’s made a Creighton team that has other improved players, including center Geoffrey Groselle and shooting guard Isaiah Zierden, one capable of making a noticeable leap up the Big East standings.

Saturday night Creighton managed to take care of a Butler squad that, at 2-5 in conference play, seems to be searching for its identity at this point in the season. During non-conference play the offense was clicking at a rate higher than many anticipated. But things have slowed down on that end of the floor for Chris Holtmann’s team, and they’ve struggled in dealing with that. The Bulldogs have the experience, but can they get things going in the right direction? That’s the question that needs answering at this point in time.

There are no such doubts for Creighton, with roles seemingly well-defined and a team brimming with confidence. The Bluejays will have other opportunities to add to their NCAA tournament résumé, with four of their final six games coming on the road.

The key is getting to the point where those games, which include road tilts at Providence and Xavier, can help seal a return to the NCAA tournament. Thanks in large part to Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton took an important step in that direction Saturday night.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn rattles home game-winner to beat Creighton

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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There was no more fitting way to finish what was a beautiful disaster of a basketball game than a step-back jumper from Kris Dunn that hit the rim a good four times before falling through.

Providence won 50-48.

Dunn finished with 20 points, solidifying his National Player of the Year résumé with this shot:

What made that shot so perfect was that this was as horribly-played as any basketball game that you’ll see this season. Providence shot 29.6 percent from the floor and 4-for-24 from three, which actually bested Creighton’s 25.8 percent shooting night, although the Bluejays did hit 5-for-23 from beyond the arc. They’re used to those CenturyLink Center rims.

What made it all-the-more fitting was that not 20 seconds prior to his game-winner, Dunn committed a typical, careless turnover that led to Creighton’s Maurice Watson finishing off a drive to the rim that tied the game at 48. Dunn’s heroics* were needed because Kris Dunn made a typical Kris Dunn play.

*(incredibly lucky bounce)

On the night, Dunn had eight boards, three assists and five turnovers to go along with his 20 points, shooting 6-for-17 from the floor and 1-for-5 from three. Ben Bentil also had an off night, finishing with 13 points and eight boards on 4-for-12 shooting. The rest of the Friars combined for 17 points, with Rodney Bullock, the team’s leading scorer, notching a goose egg on 0-for-2 shooting with one board, two turnovers and three fouls in 22 minutes.

But hey, Providence will leave Omaha with a win, which is not something that has been easy to do in the Big East this season. Creighton was 3-1 in the league entering Tuesday night, having rolled over Georgetown and Seton Hall in their last two games. With the Friars coming off of a loss to Marquette last Tuesday, I’m pretty sure that head coach Ed Cooley will get on that charter back to Rhode Island with a smile on his face tonight, regardless of what that win looked like.

The Friars can work on fixing things in practice tomorrow.

They can’t change an L into a W.