No. 8 Creighton beats No. 12 Butler to match its best start (Jan 11, 2017)

Butler's Nate Fowler (51) grabs a rebound between Creighton's Justin Patton (23) and Cole Huff (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Maurice Watson Jr. says he and his Creighton teammates followed the script perfectly against Butler, putting the Bulldogs away early by playing a blistering first half.

”We start every game saying we want to come out and cook every team,” Watson said after the eighth-ranked Bluejays beat the No. 12 Bulldogs 75-64 on Wednesday night. ”We have that fire in us and that pride, turning us into dogs. That’s what you’ve got to be when you want to be the top team in a conference like the Big East.”

Watson scored 21 points as Creighton (16-1, 4-1 Big East) matched its best 17-game start in program history. The Bluejays, who shot 55 percent, were too much for Butler (14-3, 3-2) with its star Kelan Martin still struggling with his shot.

Watson made 9 of 14 shots and had seven assists but committed a season-high eight turnovers. Khyri Thomas added 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Cole Huff and Justin Patton each had 10 points.

”Our execution was good, our focus was good, our energy was good, and obviously we’re scoring some baskets as a result of our defense – and that gets our crowd into the game,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

Butler lost for the first time in five games against Top 25 opponents, and it failed in the bid for a fourth win over a top 10 opponent. All of the losses have come on the road.

Avery Woodson led the Bulldogs with 14 points.

The Bluejays led 47-27 at halftime after shooting 60 percent.

”I think they can certainly make a Final Four, I think they can play for a national championship,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. ”I thought that as soon as I started watching them and preparing for them. There is zero ceiling for this Creighton team.”

Martin continued to be mired in a slump that has him shooting 30 percent in Big East games. He went 0 for 8 the first 20 minutes and put up an air ball from 8 feet in the lane.

Creighton led by as many as 25 points in the second half before the Bulldogs got a burst of energy from Martin, who went to the bench with 2:25 left in the first half and didn’t return until there were 13 minutes left. He hit a mid-range jumper, a tough baseline shot over Thomas and a 3-pointer that cut Creighton’s lead to 15.

Martin finished with seven points on 3-of-14 shooting, and the Bulldogs never could get the deficit into single digits.

”Kelan has struggled a little bit in league play,” Holtmann said. ”We’ve got to work hard to get Kelan playing better on both ends.”

BIG PICTURE

Butler: The Bulldogs are immersed in a front-loaded schedule that has them playing three top 15 teams in a four-game stretch that started with its win over top-ranked Villanova and ends Saturday at home against No. 15 Xavier. Until Martin finds his shot, Butler could struggle.

Creighton: The Bluejays are in a groove since losing to Villanova on New Year’s Eve. Watson decided this was a night he needed to be a scorer, and he was splendid in that role. Patton keeps growing into one of the Big East’s dominant big men.

QUITE A FRIGHT

Watson gave the crowd a scare with 12 seconds left when he was laid out on his back after banging knees with Martin. The pain went away, but he stayed down a little longer. He thought he might garner sympathy from McDermott, who came out on the court to check on him.

”Coach Mac knows me,” Watson said. ”He came up and said, `You will do anything to not practice tomorrow.”’

Watson popped up and ran to the bench.

UP NEXT

Butler plays Saturday at home against No. 15 Xavier, which beat the Bulldogs 74-57 in its last visit to Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Creighton hosts Division II Truman State on Saturday in a game that will count on the record and in the statistics but won’t be factored into its RPI.

More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

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