UE dropped its fourth game in fifth tries Saturday, but this one came in the Ford Center, where the Aces hadn’t lost yet in Missouri Valley Conference play.
Creighton came back from 16 points down in the first half, and after a late Aces rally, UE senior Ned Cox missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
Said senior Colt Ryan: “It definitely wasn’t the last shot that lost us the game. We started out really well, and then throughout the middle stretch there we didn’t run the offense well – probably took a couple bad shots – and started giving them some easy looks at the basket, too.”
It was another game marred by UE’s inconsistent offense, which hit its first six shots but cooled off to finish an even 40 percent from the field. Said coach Marty Simmons: At times I felt like we were getting really good opportunities on the offense end and not making them. And then there were other times where I thought we were really trying to force the issue – got outside our offense and tried to play a little one on one. Again, that’s been an Achilles heel for us all year. That really leads to good play for the other team. I just haven’t done a good enough job of getting our players to understand that. They all want to do so well so bad – be the one to stop the (struggles). But there’s a certain amount of discipline that you have to have and togetherness to get through those spurts. It’s an area that we’ve got to continue to work on.”
Creighton entered having lost three games in a row. The Bluejays in turn fell from first place in the league standings. “This was a must-win for us,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. “I don’t think it’s any secret. We tried not to approach it that way with our team because we were feeling enough heat as it was. But it was refreshing to make some shots again, and we were fortunate Colt Ryan missed some shots he usually makes. We came out on the good end of that today. We were lucky to win, but we’re really excited to win.”
After trailing 31-15 in the first half, McDermott’s teaam chipped away to a five-point deficit and later went on to lead by as many as nine points in the second. “They just kept fighting – kept defending and giving ourselves opportunities to chip at it,” the coach said. “We had really two bad stretches in the first half. They scored the first six possessions of the game, and then they scored six in a row in the middle. Other than that, they scored three out of 20 possessions or something like that so the rest of our defense was pretty good. I thought we made Colt take some tough ones, and like I mentioned earlier, he missed some that he’s made in the past. When teams beat Evansville, that’s usually the case.”
The end result was the same, but the way to a Bluejays win was much different from the 17-point victory Creighton posted Dec. 29 in Omaha. “They just got off to that big start,” said Bluejays junior Doug McDermott. “They hit some 3s. (Adam) Wing hit those 3s early – he didn’t hit those at our place. (Ryan) Sawvell hit a 3 too. They just made shots, and Colt was rolling – getting to the free throw line. We did get off to a really good start at our place, which helped us, and it was kind of the opposite here. It’s a great comeback win for us.”
Ryan on the Creighton comeback: “They kept plugging away, and we kind of let the air out of the balloon. We were kind of jacked up to start the game. We were making shots and everything – making probably some difficult shots. Then the eight-minute mark, we hit that timeout and shots stopped falling a little bit. We weren’t getting back in defensive transition a little bit. But give them credit. They kept sustaining effort, and it won them the game.”
For the first time in 25 games, Simmons’ starting lineup changed. Freshman Adam Wing started instead of senior Lewis Jones, who didn’t play Saturday. “(Coaches) didn’t really tell me until pregame – about 10 minutes before the game I saw it on the board,” Wing said. “But I had an idea, though. Just consistent effort in practice. I kept on plugging away. I never really quit. I had struggles earlier on in the season – just ups and downs like a roller coaster ride – but just consistent effort.”
Wing often guarded Doug McDermott and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. “He just plays with a lot of toughness – lot of energy,” Simmons said. “He’s a great teammate. We just thought he would give us the best opportunity to get off to a good start, and I thought he played outstanding.”
UE sold out the Ford Center’s lower bowl, and an announced 6,838 fans showed up on “Pack the Ford Center Purple” day. “It was awesome,” Simmons said. “I thought that was the best all year. They really gave our guys – we seemed to be losing it a bit toward the end of the second half, and I thought they gave them a second air and certainly a big boost going down the stretch. We certainly appreciate that. We needed it today, we’re going to need it again Wednesday, and we’re going to need it again against Indiana State. Playing great teams in a great league like that, we need our fans’ support. I thought they really stepped up and were a big factor today.”