INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - No. 12 seed UC Santa Barbara used a 21-5 run to turn a 10-point second half deficit into a 58-52 lead with 5:37 to play, but in the end fifth-seeded Creighton battled back and won an NCAA Tournament First Round thriller, 63-62.
"I just got done talking to our guys and it's a very difficult time for all of them, and our whole staff, because this game was right there for us," said head coach Joe Pasternack after the game. "This game can't define our season. Our players did such an amazing job, off the court with COVID and on the court competing for championships."
The Bluejays (21-8) led 47-37 when Mitch Ballock made a pair of free throws at the 13:32 mark, but that's when the Gauchos (22-5) caught fire.
Miles Norris got things started when he made a trio of free throws after he was fouled attempting a three-pointer. After a Marcus Zegarowski turnaround jumper from outside the key, Devearl Ramsey made a three to cut the lead to 49-43 with 12:19 remaining.
The teams traded missed shots before Creighton's Denzel Mahoney missed a short jumper in the paint and the follow attempt. The second miss was rebounded by Norris who got the ball to JaQuori McLaughlin. McLaughlin found Brandon Cyrus in the lane for a floater that cut the advantage to 49-45 at the 10:43 mark.
Norris was at it again on the defensive end of the court as he swatted a Ballock layup attempt with Sow gathering the rebound, igniting a fast break. McLaughlin found Norris on the left side and the 6-foot-10 forward drained a three, pulling his team within 49-48.
Damien Jefferson's missed three was rebounded by Robinson Idehen, and McLaughlin hit a jumper from just outside the key, putting UCSB in front for the first time since the first half, 50-49 with 9:23 to play.
Mahoney responded for the Bluejays with a three-pointer from deep in the left corner to give his team a 52-50 lead, but after a media time out, Ajare Sanni matched Mahoney with a triple of his own to make it a 53-52 game.
Back-to-back stops by the Gauchos resulted in a pull-up jumper by Ramsey and a three-pointer by McLaughlin, completing the 21-5 surge and making the score 58-52 with 5:37 on the clock.
A layup by Jefferson, a three by Ballock, a dunk by Christian Bishop and a pull-up jumper by Zegarowski gave Creighton a 9-0 run and a 61-58 lead with 1:40 remaining.
But UCSB wasn't finished. McLaughlin found Sow who powered in a contested layup to make it a one-point game, 61-60. At the other end, Norris rebounded a missed three-pointer by Ballock. The Gauchos worked the ball around until Sow was fouled by Ballock while attempting a layup. He made both free throws to give his team a 62-61 lead with :37 on the clock.
After a timeout, the Bluejays worked the ball to Jefferson who missed a jumper inside the key, but Bishop rebounded the ball and was fouled. He made both ends of a 1-and-1, giving Creighton a 63-62 lead with just over 16 seconds to play.
"I thought they had some really key offensive rebounds that hurt us," Pasternack said. "Especially the one at the end."
Santa Barbara decided not to call a timeout and got the ball to McLaughlin. The senior guard and Big West Player of the Year was trapped in the left corner, but he stepped through the trap and passed the ball to Sow, who put up a short leader that rimmed in-and-out. Mitchell rebounded for the Bluejays and was immediately fouled.
"I was looking to come off of it and shoot," McLaughlin said of a screen on UCSB's last possession. "But they were on me with the double-team and Amadou was wide open, so I just made the right pass."
Mitchell missed the front end of the 1-and-1 with 1.8 seconds to play, but a last second heave from beyond mid-court by Cyrus fell short as the buzzer sounded to end the game.
McLaughlin finished with 13 points, six rebounds and seven assists for the Gauchos. Norris also had 13 points and six boards. Sow added 12 points and six rebounds, while Ramsey had 11 points and three assists.
UCSB jumped out to a 16-8 lead to start the game, but Creighton clawed back to take a 34-30 halftime lead.
"The last four minutes of the first half they scored 11 points," Pasternack said. "I thought that really hurt us."
But the Gauchos outscored the Bluejays 32-29 in the second half, setting the stage for the thrilling finish.
"We held Creighton in the second half to 29 points," Pasternack said, "and that's tough to do."
Zegarowski led the Bluejays with 17 points and eight assists, while Bishop had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Mahoney had 13 points.
As a team, UCSB shot 38.6% overall and was able to scratch back into the game despite making just 11-of-33 shots in the second half. Creighton shot 44.8% overall. Both teams took care of the ball, combining for just 17 turnovers. The Gauchos won the rebounding battle, 36-30.
Article courtesy of UCSB Athletics