Creighton edged Oregon in 2OT to advance in the NCAA Tournament
Creighton edged Oregon in 2OT to advance in the NCAA Tournament

Before the second overtime began, Greg McDermott looked at Dana Altman and the two coaches and close friends smiled.

“We were both in disbelief at what was happening before our eyes,” McDermott said.

They were not alone.

Steven Ashworth and Ryan Kalkbrenner hit 3-pointers in the second overtime as Creighton held off Altman, the former Bluejays coach, to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament with an 86-73 victory over Oregon on Saturday night.

3s from the 6-foot-1 Ashworth and the rare 7-1 Kalkbrenner, a defensive specialist, helped the third-seeded Bluejays (25-9) score the first 15 points of the second overtime to finally put away the 11th-seeded Ducks (24-12) and an end to a game that contained enough chaos for more than one March.

“Epic game,” said McDermott, who took over for Creighton for Altman in 2010 and earned his 325th career win, two shy of Altman’s school record. “I’m not sure I’ve been a part of anything like this in 35 years.”

Ashworth scored 21 points, Trey Alexander added 20, Kalkbrenner scored 19 and Baylor Scheierman had 18 for Creighton, which will make its third Sweet 16 appearance in four years when it faces No. 2 Tennessee on Friday in the regional tournament of the Midwest in Detroit.

“It feels great,” said Alexander, one of the returnees from Creighton’s Elite Eight team from a year ago. “We love this group of guys. We love to rock together. We love everything that comes with traveling and just being able to have another week with each other.

“We’re going to try to stay in the moment and just keep playing at the level we feel we can play at. From there, we’ll just let the dominoes fall where they fall.”

It took balance, big shots, free throws and poise for the Bluejays to overcome Oregon’s devastating one-two punch of Jermaine Quisnard and N’Fali Dante.

Quisnard, who had 40 points in the first round against South Carolina, his former school, scored 32 on Saturday and Dante dominated inside with 28 points and 20 rebounds.

It was the second overtime game of the night at PPG Paints Arena after NC State ended Oakland’s Cinderella streak with a 79-73 victory.

Saturday’s contest pitted the two winningest coaches in Creighton history: Altman and McDermott, close friends, casual golf buddies and the reason the Bluejays are a middling power and bracket threat.

For two hours their teams went side by side without giving an inch. It was exciting and exhausting as they traded leads 14 times. There were nine ties and about as much drama as you can muster in a tournament game.

The Ducks, who rode the Quisnard-Dante tandem to the Pac-12 Tournament title, looked cooked in the first overtime after two Ashworth free throws put Creighton ahead 71-68. But Quisnard, the silky senior guard from East Chicago, Ind., went down and calmly drained a long 3-pointer in front of the Oregon bench to tie the score.

“They’ve been playing tailback all year,” said Altman, who lost three players to season-ending injuries. “We drove them. So it was special watching those two guys.

“We had our chances. We just made some critical errors in regulation. And this is my account.’

Creighton had one last chance in the first overtime, but Alexander missed a short jumper from the baseline just before the horn, extending Saturday’s doubleheader on a chilly Pittsburgh night into Sunday morning.

The second sequel was all Creighton.

Ashworth opened it with his 3 and after Quisnard missed a layup, Kalkbrenner, the three-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, took a pass behind the line and drained just his 53rd 3-point attempt all season.

“Mac [McDermott] told me to do 100 [3s] after practice and the 100 before that in the two practices we had before we got here,” Kalkbrenner said. “It helped me prepare. I got the confidence to make that shot and I know that was probably the No. 1 shot that Mac wanted on that possession.”

After another layup by Quisnard, Creighton’s Jason Green, who had nine rebounds, nailed a putback and the Bluejays all but flew to the Sweet 16. Alexander sealed it with a 3-pointer as Creighton opened up an 86-71 lead.

Oregon, which committed just five free throws, had a chance to put the game away in the final minute of regulation, but Dante missed Oregon’s first shot from the line with 26.4 seconds left and the Ducks went up by two points.

Scheierman, who played the full 50 minutes, then hit a contested 10-footer in the lane to tie the score and the teams went to overtime when Quisnard missed an off-balance shot in the final second.

One of the main subplots of the game was Altman’s reunion on the court with Creighton, where he spent 16 seasons, turned around a program in disarray and helped put the Omaha, Neb., school on the hoops map.

McDermott maintains it. Now one of the most consistently winning teams in the nation, the Bluejays have outgrown every mid-major label.

In March, they are as big as they get.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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