OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — After losing two games to Creighton by a combined 49 points, Villanova coach Jay Wright would rather not see the Bluejays again this season.
“They’re just a tough matchup for us,” Wright said after his sixth-ranked Wildcats lost 101-80 to the No. 18 Bluejays on Sunday. “Our style of play and their style of play kind of leads to these kinds of games. “We’ve got to find the answer if we face them again.”
The next chance would be in the Big East tournament. Before that, Villanova has lots of work to do just to stay in the Big East race.
Creighton moved into first place, a half-game ahead of the Wildcats, who play at Providence on Tuesday and then at home Saturday against St. John’s.
“We were really looking forward to this,” Wright said of his team’s visit to Omaha. “We felt we didn’t play our game at home the last game against them. But now when you play this game, this is what we are against Creighton. We’ve done it twice in a row. We have to learn from this, we’ve got to get better, put it behind us and prepare for Providence.”
James Bell scored 18 points for the Wildcats (22-3, 10-2) before fouling out with 6:11 left. JayVaughn Pinkston scored all 15 of his points in the second half, and Dylan Ennis had 11.
The Wildcats had no answer for Doug McDermott, who matched his season high with 39 points and passed Larry Bird for 13th on the Division I career scoring chart.
Creighton’s 21-point win came less than a month after it hammered Villanova by 28 in Philadelphia on Jan. 20 on the strength of a record 3-point shooting performance.
“I didn’t think we could play much better than we did at Villanova,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “But I’m not sure we didn’t play better today. We didn’t have the crazy shooting night from the 3-point line, but the other parts of the game were really good.”
Wright said getting blown out again was frustrating because he and his staff came up with a much different defensive plan. The Wildcats didn’t double-team McDermott as much, and they denied the ball to 3-point marksman Ethan Wragge.
McDermott did his thing, as usual, and Creighton’s bench produced 39 points.
The Bluejays (21-4, 11-2) beat the same ranked opponent twice in the same season for the first time in program history. They also won their 16th straight at home, matching their longest streak since moving into the CenturyLink Center in 2003.
McDermott went over 30 points for the ninth time this season and 23rd time in his career. He took over the national scoring lead, at 25.9 points a game. He passed Bird, the Indiana State great of the late 1970s, on the NCAA’s scoring list with his fourth 3-pointer with 13:23 left.
“It’s pretty crazy. That’s one of my idols,” he said. “Imagine if (Bird) had the 3-point line and he stayed four years. He would be way ahead of me. It’s really cool just to be in that category with some of those guys.”
The senior forward left to an ovation with 1:43 left, embracing his coach and father before sitting down. He now has 2,863 career points.
“Doug was obviously incredible,” Greg McDermott said. “He has a way of stepping up for these games, and today was certainly an example of that.”
Isaiah Zierden had 13 points, Devin Brooks added 12 and Grant Gibbs had 11 for the Bluejays, who shot a season-best 64.2 percent. Their previous high was 56.9 percent in their 96-68 win at Villanova on Jan. 20.
Wragge, who made nine 3-pointers and had a career-high 27 points in the teams’ first meeting, didn’t get off a shot until the third minute of the second half and didn’t make a field goal until 7:37 remained. Villanova mimicked other recent Creighton opponents in denying the senior forward the ball, and he finished with five points.
Villanova had won six straight since its loss to the Bluejays last month. The Wildcats never led after the first minute.
Villanova was the highest-ranked team to play Creighton in Omaha since fourth-ranked DePaul visited in December 1983.
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