Fourth-seeded Creighton opened up the 2016 National Invitation Tournament with a 72-54 win over fifth-seeded Alabama on Tuesday night at CenturyLink Center Omaha. The win was Creighton’s first at home over an SEC team since a 1940 win over Kentucky.
Maurice Watson Jr. had 20 points, while Geoffrey Groselle extended his career with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for CU.
Creighton (19-14) will meet the winner of Wednesday’s game between St. Bonaventure and Wagner at a day, time and site to be announced. Alabama had its season end with an 18-15 mark, the second time in five seasons that CU has beaten the Crimson Tide in the postseason (also 2012 NCAA’s).
After the teams played even for much of the first 11 minutes, Creighton took over and never trailed again. With Watson and Khyri Thomas on the bench with two fouls, Bluejays used a 10-3 run to close the first half with a 30-19 lead over the Crimson Tide, holding UA to 24.1 percent shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes.
The onslaught continued early in the second half, as Creighton opened the frame with an 11-4 run to quickly extend the margin to 41-23 with 15:28 to play. Alabama responded to draw within 10 on a pair of occasions in the final six minutes, only to see CU pull away each time.
Watson, the only Bluejay with previous NIT experience, led CU with 20 points and moved into second in CU single-season history in assists with 212 overall. Groselle had 12 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots, while Thomas returned to the starting line-up and had his best all-around game since December. Thomas had 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals in place of injured Isaiah Zierden.
Creighton shot 48.3 percent from the field, including 35.7 percent from the line and were also 75.0 percent at the line. The Bluejays outrebounded Alabama 45-32 overall and turned 15 offensive rebounds into 19 second chance points. The Bluejays outscored UA 38-16 in the paint.
Alabama was paced by 18 points from Justin Coleman, who helped spark a 32-13 advantage in bench points for the visitors. All-SEC guard Retin Obasohan was held to two points in the first half and had just 13 overall on 3-of-10 shooting.