OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Creighton came into its game against Seton Hall off three wins by a total of nine points, and the history between the teams suggested another close contest Wednesday night.
It turned out this one wasn’t even close.
Damien Jefferson scored 16 of his season-high 19 points in the first half and No. 7 Creighton jumped out to a fast start on its way to an 89-53 victory over the Pirates.
“This one feels great, honestly,” Jefferson said. “We talked about it as seniors, the older group, how we have to finish teams off. Sometimes coming out of the half we get lackadaisical and go through the motions and teams come back into the game. When you’ve got games like this when you win by such a good amount of points, it’s easier and it feels good.”
The Bluejays (9-2, 5-1 Big East) won their fifth straight game with their biggest conference win since beating St. John’s 100-59 in February 2016.
The loss ended a three-game win streak for Seton Hall (8-5, 5-2) and was coach Kevin Willard’s most lopsided defeat in his 11 seasons.
“Every once in a while you get smacked down and you’ve got to pick yourself back up,” Willard said. “This group has been able to do that.”
Denzel Mahoney had 14 points and Marcus Zegarowski added 11 for the Bluejays, who shot 59.6% overall and 54.2% on 3-pointers, both season highs. They moved into second place in the Big East behind Villanova.
Sandro Mamukelashvili led the Pirates with 14 points and Jared Rhoden had 10.
The Bluejays made their first seven shots and led 17-4 less than five minutes in. Jefferson started 7 for 8 from the field, and his 3-pointer gave Creighton its biggest lead of the first half, 32-19.
Back-to-back 3s by Mahoney and Zegarowski during a flurry to open the second half expanded the cushion. The bulge grew to 42 points in the last three minutes.
“The start of the game and start of the second half are so critical in basketball,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Seton Hall had been one of the best teams in our league in the first four minutes of the second half. So I was really concerned they would come out of the locker room and try to throw the first punch, and I really talked to the team at halftime about making sure that didn’t happen.”
It was the second straight game Jefferson set a season high for points. He scored 18 on 9-for-13 shooting at Providence last Saturday.
The senior forward is shooting 63.4% overall and 50% on 3s in Big East play. He also had four steals against Seton Hall and is averaging 2.7 in conference games.
“He’s worked really hard on his game,” McDermott said. “If you take away that 20-some-game stretch where his foot wasn’t right at the end of one year and the start of the next, this guy has played incredible basketball for us. He’s having one heck of a career. Our fans are getting to enjoy the fruits of his hard work, and it’s paying off for him and paying off for us.”
Seton Hall: The Pirates were playing as well as anyone in the Big East until this clunker. Their 33% shooting from the field was their worst of the season, and their 16.7% accuracy on 3s (3 of 18) was a season low.
Creighton: The game illustrated the Bluejays’ offensive depth. Just about anyone in the eight-man rotation can step up. This time it was Jefferson. Mitch Ballock, who came in averaging just under 14 points per game and has been one of the team’s most prolific 3-point shooters in his four seasons, didn’t get his first shot off until five minutes into the second half.
Seton Hall backup guard Bryce Aiken injured his right ankle for the second time this season when he stepped awkwardly on Zegarowski’s foot early in the game. Aiken was helped off the court and went to the locker room. The first injury kept him out of six games.
Seton Hall visits DePaul on Saturday. The Pirates swept the teams’ two games last season.
Creighton hosts St. John’s on Saturday. The Bluejays won 94-76 in New York on Dec. 17.
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