Well there you have it. The first real regulation college basketball at the CenturyLink Center is in the books. In what was supposedly a rout with 13 minutes remaining in the second half turned into a gut wrenching nail-biter as the Kangaroos forced turnover after turnover by the Jays to cut the lead to single digits.
If there’s a silver lining anywhere in this game it’s that the Bluejays led by 28 points. In fact, they led by double digit points from the 16 minute mark in the first half to the two minute mark in the second half.
The game began in a similar fashion to the exhibition game in which Marcus Foster loaded up and canned a three pointer from well beyond the arc. A bit later we bore witness to the magic that is having an athletic 7-footer as Foster set up in the lane, found nothing, stepped back and lobbed the ball up, where Justin Patton immediately crammed it. The crowd swelled for a moment, until the next possession where Maurice Watson Jr., found Patton for another alley-oop. At that point the crowd was eating out of the Bluejay’s hands, exploding into a raucousness and jubilation to honor the stellar play.
From then on it looked as if the Jays were going to run the Kangaroos out of the building. After the game, UMKC head coach Kareem Richardson lauded the style of play the Bluejays utilize, saying, “It’s just tough to really simulate Creighton’s transition offense, you can talk about how fast they are and how you gotta get back on the defensive end but it’s obviously a heck of a lot faster in person so we were on our heels there.”
The pace at which Creighton scored was neck breaking. Transition-wise, the first half was absolutely perfect, as everything Creighton did came with a crispness that’s usually reserved for a team in, God I hate myself for saying this, mid-season form. In a truly unselfish vacuum they played that first half lights out. Here and there they’d turn the ball over when they picked up the tempo a notch too much, but they were able to settle down on the next possession and really make it count.
The score was 55-34 at the half. UMKC was tired and realized that this hoop squad could put the ball in the basket seemingly at will. They sulked into halftime and sulked some more coming out of it as Khyri Thomas, Maurice Watson Jr., and Marcus Foster just played with them as if they were a JV team from Bakersfield, CA.
The lead grew and grew and grew with the same frenetic pace as the first half. There was a brilliant play, which you can see below, where UMKC’s Martez Harrison picks Watson’s pocket and starts going on a break. The look in Khyri Thomas’s eyes as he goes stride for stride with Harrison to the basket was something similar to a heat seeking missile headed for an active volcano. Khyri rejects Harrison hard at the rim, the ball bouncing to Watson, who finds Patton on a beautiful skip, who finds Cole Huff wide open from 3, where Huff drains it with ease.
Those sorts of moments put this game into its proper perspective.
The game wore on. The lead peaked at 28 after an and-one by Watson. Then, slowly but surely, Creighton became very complacent with their lead. The crisp passes we witnessed in the first half disappeared. The ball security suddenly dissolved. Turnovers became more common than buckets made. Bit by bit the vaunted, unstoppable, invincible Bluejays were now lackadaisical and careless. They’d given up. Their lead, perhaps, too wide.
All hell broke loose. With 8:11 left in the game the Jays had a 24 point lead. Four minutes passed, the lead shrunk to 17. Two minutes later, the lead became a dinged up 1984 Honda Civic, barely struggling to get by at just 9 points.
Justin Patton - who had a stellar game up until that point - stood at the stripe shooting a one-and-one. First one goes in, lead back to 10. Second one falls short, biting iron, and the Jays foul Kyle Steward on the other end.
Steward stepped to the stripe. He sinks one.
Marcus Foster breaks the press and goes coast to coast, with a spin move added in, to put the lead back to 11. It was the most no-nonsense play the Jays executed since the collapse started, and it was breathtaking. On the returning possession, Martez Harrison nailed a jumper to bring it back within 9 with just under a minute remaining.
The final two shots were by Xavier Bishop, who sank two free throws. The Kangaroo’s deficit sat at 7.
Creighton inbounded the ball, immediately breaking the press, managed to get it safely secured, and UMKC had bowed out. They had enough. It was somewhat bizarre, given they had a breadth of time left on the clock and could’ve sent a Jay to the line, but Coach Richardson explained after the game,
“I just thought we’ll walk out of here with a sense of accomplishment in terms of our second half defensive effort. Thought about it, but decided to let that go. Probably wouldn’t do that in conference play.”
Creighton still pulled out the win. They’re undefeated on the year, which is good! They take on #9 Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Highlights provided by Creighton University: