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Watson scores 29 to lead Friars past No. 11 Creighton 74-70
By ERIC OLSON
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Nate Watson let himself down with his performance the first time Providence played Creighton this season.
The big man was better than ever Wednesday night, scoring a career-high 29 points to lead the Friars past the 11th-ranked Bluejays 74-70.
Providence (8-6, 4-4 Big East) won for the first time in four games and avenged a crushing loss to the Bluejays three weeks ago.
"I feel there was urgency," Watson said. "Creighton is a really good team. They didn't really have the size in there. I most definitely was aggressive. I stayed up last night watching film of the first game versus Creighton. I didn't like the way I played. I was 4 for 11, missing too many shots."
The 6-foot-10, 260-pound Watson outweighs Creighton's 6-7 Christian Bishop by 40 pounds and 7-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner by 25, and Watson dominated all night. With the Friars playing through him, Watson went 12 for 19 from the field and got Bishop and Kalkbrenner into early foul trouble.
"I continue to say he's truly one of the best, if not the best, post scorers in America," Friars coach Ed Cooley said.
Creighton (10-4, 6-3) lost its second straight after one of its worst offensive games of the season.
The Friars built an early 17-point lead before Creighton battled back to 39-34 at halftime. The Bluejays fell behind by double digits again in the second half and then made late runs that fell short.
"It goes without saying the start of the game was the difference," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "Some blown coverages defensively allowed Nate Watson to get rolling, and then as he got rolling, obviously the foul trouble added up on us."
The Bluejays were within two points four times in the final six minutes, the last two occasions in the last 57 seconds.
Mitch Ballock snaked inside for his only basket, but David Duke banked in a contested 3-pointer from the left wing on the Friars' next possession to make it 70-65.
"He didn't call that," Watson said, laughing. "It was a lucky shot."
The teams traded free throws before Marcus Zegarowski banked in a one-handed 3 of his own with 5.6 seconds left. Duke put the game out of reach with two free throws at the end.
Freshman guard Alyn Breed had a season-high 15 points, Duke added 12 and Jimmy Nichols Jr. scored 10 for the Friars, who were playing the third of four straight road games.
Damien Jefferson scored a career-best 26 points for the Bluejays. Zegarowski, who missed the previous two games with a left hamstring injury, had 17 points and Bishop added 12.
Creighton shot a season-low 17.4% (4 of 23) on 3-pointers and missed eight of its 24 free throws.
Providence lost 67-65 to the Bluejays on Jan. 2 after making up a big deficit with a late 17-4 run. Creighton won when Bishop dunked with less than a second left.
The Friars, who hadn't won anywhere since Dec. 30, won for the sixth time in seven games against Top 25 opponents.
"Happy for Friar-town," Cooley said. "We've got another monster game coming up against a top-five team in Villanova. We'll enjoy today for about five minutes and we'll start preparing for Villanova tonight."
Providence: The Friars were without point guard Jared Bynum (groin) for the third straight game and avoided their longest losing streak since 2012-13.
Creighton: The Bluejays live and die by the 3-pointer, and they're struggling mightily right now. They're shooting 21.7% (10 of 46) from long distance in their last two games.
BREED ON RISE
Breed started for the third straight time with Bynum out of the lineup. He's taken the off-guard role while Duke has moved to the point. Breed totaled two points the last two games. Against the Bluejays he made both his 3s and finished 4 for 5 from the field.
"I'm not scared or afraid of big teams, none of that," Breed said. "When you go out there and play hard, none of that matters. My teammates and coaches give me confidence, so it works out."
Providence visits No. 3 Villanova on Saturday.
Creighton hosts No. 23 Connecticut on Saturday. The Bluejays won 76-74 in overtime at UConn on Dec. 20.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Updated January 20, 2021