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Senior guard James Bell has scored in double figures in 12 of 18 games for the Wildcats this season. (Rachel Bleier/The Villanovan)

by Mark Mullany

Martin Luther King Jr. Day turned out to be a nightmare for Villanova, as the Creighton Bluejays dominated the Wildcats, 96-68, handing them their first conference loss of the year.

Creighton was unstoppable behind the 3-point line as it set a new Big East record by sinking 21 3-pointers in a single game.

“[Creighton] executed extremely well offensively,” said Head Coach Jay Wright. “They were just really on top of their game. Getting behind the team like that, the way they moved the ball and with their quickness, was really tough to overcome. You have to give them a lot of credit.”

Going into the contest, many fans speculated senior forward Doug McDermott would be the primary scoring threat.

However, redshirt senior forward Ethan Wragge started the first half by going 7 of 7 from the 3-point line. By halftime, Wragge had 24 points, shooting 8 of 10 from downtown. He would finish with 27 points off of 9 threes.

The Bluejays lit up the Wildcats in the first five minutes of the game by going on a 21-5 run, in which Creighton made its first seven 3-pointers and Wragge led the run with five from beyond the arc.

With 7:12 remaining in the opening half, the score favored the Blue Jays, 47-19, giving Creighton its largest lead of the first half with 28 points.

However, the ’Cats did not lose hope as they came roaring back with a 22-7 run to close the first half and reduce the deficit by 15 points.

Redshirt-sophomore guard Dylan Ennis started the run when he entered the lane and scored his first two points of the night.

On ’Nova’s next possession, redshirt junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston grabbed the offensive board, drew a foul from McDermott and cashed in on both free throws.

Then, McDermott turned the ball over. Once again, a McDermott mistake led to a Pinkston score, but this time he scored by driving into a congested lane of Blue Jay defenders.

With 4:34 remaining in the half and the Nova Nation screaming its signature “Let’s Go ’Nova” chant, senior guard James Bell swished a 3-pointer.

The Bluejays called a timeout as the 14,000+ at the Well Fargo Center erupted.

Sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono, Bell and junior guard Darrun Hilliard each followed up with a three to close the gap between ’Nova and Creighton.

The Wildcats secured the ball with 34 seconds left in the first half. With the shot clock unplugged, the Wildcats had time for one more play.

Arcidiacono gave the ball to Hilliard at the top of the key. The junior guard burned the clock down to 10 seconds, lowered his shoulder into the lane and took control by making a left-handed layup to close the first 20 minutes of play. Creighton led ’Nova, 54-41, at halftime.

Despite a strong effort to end the first half, the Wildcats would never take the lead in the second.

“I thought in the first possession of the second half, we got a great stop and didn’t rebound it,” Wright said. “The second possession, we got a great stop and again didn’t rebound it. Right there, I could tell we just weren’t ourselves.”

Similar to the prior half, the Bluejays began the first eight minutes of the latter half with a 20-6 run, strengthening Creighton’s lead over Villanova to 74-47.

Even after Wright called a 30-second timeout in an attempt to slow down Creighton’s momentum, the Bluejays continued to dominate as they took a 30-point lead via a McDermott three.

To further display its newly claimed Big East supremacy,  Creighton’s redshirt junior center Will Artino threw down a monstrous dunk to give his squad a 40-point lead, 90-50, with the 6:35 remaining in the conference contest.

From there, the ’Cats reduced the final losing margin to 28 points, giving Wright his worst loss as Villanova’s head coach and Creighton the 96-68 win.

Bell led ’Nova in scoring, tallying 19 for the game. Pinkston and Hilliard also cracked double figures.

Behind Wragge’s sensational 3-point shooting, McDermott nailed five threes to finish with 23 points, which falls close to his season average. Creighton barely outrebounded Villanova, 34-32.

“We’ll definitely learn from this,” Wright said. “It’s still early in the season. You certainly don’t like to do it this way. You can win and learn; you can definitely do that.

That’s what we wanted to do, but we’ve got a lot to learn from this game. Sometimes, we’ve got to say, OK, we’ve put together a lot of good games in a row. We had an off night tonight, but you have to give most of the credit to Creighton for that.”

’Nova will play Marquette and Georgetown on the road this Saturday at 2 p.m. and Monday at 9 p.m., respectively.

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