LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Jalen Wilson remained composed when he needed to hit the go-ahead 3-pointer for Kansas in the closing seconds.
He was equally stoic watching No. 8 Creighton try to match him.
The redshirt freshman calmly hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 42 seconds left Tuesday night, only to foul the Bluejays’ Marcus Zegarowski attempting a tying 3 at the other end. But as Wilson watched, the preseason Big East player of the year missed the last of three foul shots, allowing the fifth-ranked Jayhawks to escape with a 73-72 win.
“I just had a lot of confidence in myself. My team has a lot of confidence in me,” said Wilson, who missed most of last season with an injury. “We told each other, ‘We’re going to win this game. We’re going to win this game.’”
Wilson finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds, his role of hero solidified thanks to Zegarowski’s miss. Christian Braun added 14 points, missing a foul shot that could have clinched the game with 12.5 seconds to go, while David McCormack contributed 13 points as the Jayhawks (5-1) won their fifth straight against the Bluejays.
“To have their best player miss one late, yeah, we were fortunate. Very fortunate,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But the game should have never been in that situation, even though it was a great game and either team could have won. We had a chance to put ourselves in a position where that wouldn’t happen and we screwed it up.”
Denzel Mahoney gave Creighton (3-1) a chance down the stretch. He hit a 3-pointer with 1:22 left to get the Bluejays within 70-68, then picked the pocket of Bryce Thompson and coasted for the tying layup with just over a minute to go.
That’s when Wilson drilled his 3 off a nifty kick-out from McCormack, and Zegarowski missed an answering 3 as Braun gathered the rebound and was fouled. But the sharpshooter missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Creighton a chance to tie. Zegarowski unloaded his attempt and Wilson got the slightest bit of arm.
Zegarowski hit the first free throw. And the second. The third clanked off the rim.
“It was a hell of a college basketball game an kind of unfortunate that somebody had to lose. Really unfortunate that it was us,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Really proud of our team, proud of how we competed.”
Zegarowski finished with 16 points, though he was hounded all night by defensive whiz Marcus Garrett and was 5 of 14 from the floor. Mahoney led the Bluejays with 19 points while Christian Bishop and Damien Jefferson had 13 apiece.
“Marcus is a perfectionist so he’s crushed,” McDermott said, “but like I told him, I can’t feel bad, because I know all the work he’s put himself in to prepare him for that moment. Sometimes you prepare and prepare and it doesn’t work out.”
The Bluejays survived an early 11-0 run by the Jayhawks, and they in turn dealt with an 0-for-8 slump midway through the first half. By the time it ended, Kansas had forged a 39-35 lead in a game that — at least compared two the fan-less first two games at Allen Fieldhouse — had the electricity of March.
It took less than two minutes for Creighton to take the lead.
Despite the experience of four returning starters, the Bluejays began to have turnover problems midway through the second half, and that allowed Kansas to begin edging ahead. Thompson hit a 3-pointer that tied the game, and Braun added another a few minutes later as the shot clock expired to give the Jayhawks a 58-50 lead.
Creighton went nearly four minutes without scoring later in the half, but the Jayhawks failed to capitalize, and they were left clinging to a 68-63 lead when Mahoney began his late takeover attempt that gave the Bluejays a chance.
After attendance was limited to about 100 close friends and family for its first two home games, Kansas had about 2,500 fans in the building. They were required to wear masks and there were two empty rows and 6 feet between each group.
Creighton was dominated on the glass, particularly the defensive end, where the bigger Jayhawks pulled down 13 offensive rebounds and turned them into 11 second-chance points. Some of the biggest came with the game on the line.
Kansas got little offensive production from Garrett and fellow starter Ochai Agbaji. Garrett was 3 of 10 from the floor and had nine points, and Agbaji was 0 for 6 and failed to score.
Creighton returns home to face Nebraska on Friday. Kansas faces Omaha the same night.
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