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In the first installment of this season's tilt between DePaul and Creighton, Bluejay guard Isaiah Zierden poured in 31 points on an afternoon where he went 8-11 shooting. From the get go, however, it appeared as if DePaul was going to pull off an upset as they posted an 11-0 lead by the first media timeout. The Bluejay defense seemed apprehensive in offering any opposition to DePaul's down low attack, which featured baskets by Eli Cain, Tommy Hamilton, Myke Henry, and Rashaun Stimage.
From that point on it was a battle between the Blue Demons and Zierden's vicious jumper. As the first half wore on, the 11 point deficit that the Bluejays once faced turned into a 6 point advantage at the end of the half, with James Milliken, Maurice Watson Jr., and Isaiah Zierden collecting layups and jump shots to out-will their opposition. Zierden ended up with 14 points in the first while Tommy Hamilton turned it on for DePaul by the tune of 13 points and 4 rebounds.
I was in attendance at this particular matchup, deciding to make the pilgrimage from Omaha to Rosemont to see what exactly DePaul had to offer. There was the All-State Arena, a vintage 1980's venue with wooden rafters and an inflatable Blue Demon to greet the players onto the court. Initially I was excited by the opportunity to see a BIG EAST venue other than the CenturyLink Center, but I was sorely disappointed when I learned that the Blue Demons played their basketball in the middle of the suburbs, a centerpiece to a slew of strip malls and sadness of middle class America. From the outside, it looked as if the All-State Arena was your typical American movie theater, but from the inside it featured cardboard cut-outs of DePaul players lining the concourses, overpriced beverages, and nearly no human beings interested in seeing DePaul play ball. As I perused the lobby at halftime in search of nothing in particular, I observed two men walk in without a ticket and ask an usher if the flea market was still in town. The usher, perturbed by this encounter, asked for their tickets and immediately told the two to leave. Moments later, another man entered and again asked about the flea market, only to be turned away and told to leave. DePaul's new arena can't come soon enough.
The second half featured a lot more Isaiah Zierden and poor defense by the Creighton Bluejays. Zierden managed to go off for 17 more points while Mo Watson Jr., scored 11 of his own. Shooting a stout 50% in the second half, it'd be hard to imagine an offensive output that could equalize the Bluejay's scoring threat. Tommy Hamilton was shut down in this half, but Eli Cain and senior Myke Henry managed to pour in 13 & 14 points respectively while shooting an even better 51.6% from the field. It was too little too late for the Blue Demons, however, as they were bested by Zierden's 31 point outing.
Verba de Ludis
EDIT: ISAIAH ZIERDEN STARTING, WILL PLAY
It's difficult for me to accurately portray how this season has gone for the Creighton Bluejays without using words like, "well duh," or, "yep, sounds right," or, "wow, no surprise there." If you would've told me at the beginning of the season that Creighton's senior center, who has been hampered with injuries throughout his entire college career, that he would've injured his ankle I would've nodded. If you would've told me that junior shooting guard Isaiah Zierden would've eventually re-injured his right knee I would've nodded and said, "Yeah, that sounds about right." Yet, if you would've told me these things and then looked me square in the mouth and told me that Creighton would have 5 wins in conference by the time both of these players for hurt I would've said, "Oh, I see. That's alright."
Creighton is trying, desperately, to climb back into the BIG EAST picture. There were reports this week of players doing a man-ball drill in practice, an exercise that normally occurs when the intensity of play has reached the levels of lackadaisy. I'm almost certain that the players would like to play with a higher level of intensity, but for some reason the fatigue of the season appears to be gnawing away at their legs like a bunch of tiny piranhas.
Here's the rub, though - what does Creighton's starting lineup look like without Groselle and Zierden? Going 5-4-3-2-1 it may look like: Hanson-Hegner-Thomas-Milliken-Watson. Meh, I don't like the looks of that. How about Hanson-Huff-Thomas-Milliken-Watson. Well, perhaps that'd be alright, but lets interject some fresh blood in there. How about Hanson-Huff-Harrell-Thomas-Watson. There, you've got a bit more size but a little less defense. Oh the combinations! You could even ditch the 5 all together and go with Hegner-Harrell-Thomas-Milliken-Watson. Now that's a lineup that can score a bunch of points in a short amount of time!
Without one of their top scorers and presence in the post, it'll be hard for the Bluejays to get off the blocks and make a significant impact on the game against a DePaul team who just took it to a really good Providence team. In front of a crowd of just a handful, Myke Henry turned in his best performance this year against the Friars, going 12-18 from the field and grabbing 11 total rebounds - 5 of which were on the offensive glass. It was a sight to behold as the entire Blue Demon team rushed into the tiny student section to celebrate their astonishing defeat of the 11th ranked Friars. With that much momentum and a Dave Leitao-led team searching for upsets, it wouldn't be too surprising to see this surging DePaul squad pull off an upset over the sliding Bluejays.
What happens if DePaul beats Creighton?
I'm thinking about it, and I'm starting to form some sort of liquid in my eye sockets. I'm sorry, I can go on no further, I'll see you at h... half... halftime.