ROSEMONT, Ill. — Creighton’s first road test of the season had an ominous beginning as fifth-year senior Toby Hegner sustained a high ankle sprain five minutes in. But the Bluejays overcame the injury behind 33 bench points, upsetting No. 20 Northwestern 92-88 in the Gavitt Tipoff Games on Wednesday night.
Creighton’s Khyri Thomas scored 24 points, including 15 in the second half, and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, notching the fourth double-double of his career.
Northwestern’s Vic Law led all scorers with 30 points, shooting 5 of 10 from 3-point range, and Bryant McIntosh added 24 in a back-and-forth shootout that came down to the wire.
“It’s a big win for us,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I’m proud of our team for having to go through the adversity of losing Toby and still figure out a way to win.”
Creighton (2-1) built a 15-point lead in the first half following a 13-3 run that spanned 3:16, while the Wildcats weathered a 1-of-9 shooting funk.
Scottie Lindsey entered the game as Northwestern’s leading scorer at 19 points per game, but he was limited to five points in 10 minutes in the first half after picking up his third foul with 6:14 remaining. He finished with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
In Lindsey’s absence, Northwestern slowed the tempo approaching halftime, which disrupted the Bluejays’ shooting rhythm, as they made just 1 of 7 attempts to close the half. McIntosh made four of the Wildcats’ final five field goals of the half, cutting Creighton’s lead to 51-43 by halftime.
“We got rolling early, and like I expected, they kind of withstood our fury, and were right back in the game at halftime,” McDermott said. “We’re a hard team to guard, and they’re a hard team to guard. That’s why you saw such an entertaining game out there. It’s not like our defenses are awful.”
Northwestern (2-1) began the second half on fire, making seven of its first nine shot attempts, including an and-one 3-pointer by Law with 17:03 remaining, which put the Wildcats on top 56-55, their first lead in nearly 20 minutes.
The Bluejays led for all but two minutes of the game, which saw 10 lead changes. Foul trouble caught up to Northwestern down the stretch, while its bench contributed only four points.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins was critical of his team’s defensive communication, particularly in transition.
“They play at a really fast tempo, so when you’re really running back, if you’re not talking, you can get cross-matched, you can get lost, and that’s what was happening,” Collins said. “I didn’t think we were talking at a high level.”
Law hit his fifth 3-pointer of the night with 58 seconds remaining to make it a one-possession game, and he blocked Davion Mintz’s shot attempt on the next play, tipping the ball to a teammate as he fell out of bounds on the baseline. Officials reviewed the play and ruled Law out of bounds. Martin Krampelj followed with a layup with 27 seconds to go for a 90-85 lead. Krampelj had 17 points and five rebounds.
Gavin Skelly answered with a 3-pointer for Northwestern to cut the deficit to two, but Thomas iced the game with a pair of clutch free throws. Skelly finished with 14 points and six rebounds.
Typically, a perimeter-oriented team, Creighton controlled the inside, out-rebounding the Wildcats 38-32 and outscoring them 48-26 in the paint, while still shooting 8-of-16 from 3-point range.
“Our defense just wasn’t good enough,” McIntosh said. “We keep talking about it but we keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Tonight, it got us beat. ... I hope it’s eye-opening for our guys, and hopefully we learn from it.”
NOTES: Creighton G Marcus Foster averaged a team-high 18.2 points per game during the 2016-17 season, which ranked third in the Big East conference, but he struggled for much of the game, scoring 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting ... This was the first meeting in six years between the schools. The series is tied 3-3. ... Creighton is 12-1 in its last 13 games against Big Ten opponents. ... Northwestern coach Chris Collins’ first cousin, Robbie Williams, played basketball with Greg McDermott at Northern Iowa.