Creighton 65, Ohio State 63 (OT)
Six months ago, Tyler McKinney effectively had one eye. As diehard Jays fans, we all know the story. And instead of having an eye removed, and instead of his college career ending early, he is back on the court, leading the Jays to an undefeated start. And as diehards, we also know to give thanks for Tyler’s health and his tenacity this holiday season. Not only has McKinney’s sight improved, but through five games and a Guardians Classic championship, his game is arguably the best it has been while at Creighton.
It is fitting that Tyler orchestrated such an important comeback against Ohio State, and that Guardians Classic officials named him MVP of the tournament championship after such a tough-played game against the Buckeyes. Ohio State held Nate Funk to eight points, a season-low, and Kellen Miliner and Jimmy Motz both failed to score in double figures as well. Tyler not only scored a season-high 11 points, but he dished out 6 assists and played 40 minutes. I would say his vision is just fine.
Thoughts (on another trophy for Dana Altman):
- Anthony Tolliver did something the past week that shows he is more mature than he might lead on -- he responded to a challenge. Dana chose to start Anthony for the two games in Kansas City, and Tolliver did not let his coach or teammates down. Anthony shot 50% from the field in the two games and recorded the first double-double of his short Creighton career in the championship game. In fact, he is the only Bluejay to have 10 or more rebounds in a game this season. Most importantly, he finally looked comfortable with the action around him during the last two games. Some people, including myself, wondered how Anthony would make the transition from playing in a high school program that didn’t have much structure and old-fashion basketball strategy to playing for a superior strategist (Dana) in a program that must execute play calls in order to win. Kickapoo (Springfield, MO) high school featured a run-and-gun style of play that Anthony and his teammates flourished in, and Tolliver must play more of a traditional post position now at Creighton. If he can continue to grow in his role and do the things Dana wants him to do, the Jays will be VERY athletic in the paint on both sides of the ball.
- Speaking of athleticism in the paint, we all know that Jeff Day is extremely quick for a center. Sometimes this last week, though, he was a little too fast, and was called for numerous traveling violations in the game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and in the Guardians Classic semifinals and championship game. He was benched from his starting spot for both games in Kansas City, and he looked like he was trying to do too much when he eventually saw minutes in those games. He can flat out fly, he is extremely quick, and his extended wingspan changes the game on defense. Once he gets completely comfortable in Dana’s system, watch out. He will be a force in the Valley.
- Ohio State was thick at almost every position, and still the Jays did not back down. Creighton out rebounded the Buckeyes 37-31, succeeding on one of Dana’s preaching principles. And for being undersized many times during the game, Ohio State only went to the free-throw line seven times. The Buckeyes were content to keep shooting long-range jumpers and three pointers, and when fatigue set in from the constant Bluejay press and pressure those shots stopped falling for Ohio State. The Jays, on the other hand, went to the charity stripe 19 times and shot 60% -- not ideal, but definitely more effective than the Buckeyes not even getting to the line. This was also another spot where Tyler made his presence felt, going 4-5 from the line. Funk also tried to create free throw opportunities for himself, and as the Buckeyes started limiting his outside shot he drove the lane and drew contact. Nate’s added muscle is really starting to pay off.
- Dane Watts continued his progression in his freshman season, and he is providing a lot of spark off the bench for the Jays. Everyone will look at Tyler’s game-winner as the defining moment of the championship contest, but the most important sequence of the game arguably came at the 1:50 mark of the second half. Anthony Tolliver hit one of two free throws to pull the Jays within one, and Ohio State turned the ball over on the subsequent possession. On the next trip down the floor, Tyler found Dane in the paint and Watts finished with a rousing dunk. He was fouled in the act, completed the three-point play, and the Jays led 54-53. Dane finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a huge steal on a Buckeye inbounds pass.
Creighton will most likely be underdogs going to the Cintas Center in Cincinnati to take on the Xavier Musketeers, but this is a very winnable game for the Jays. Xavier lost the core of last year's Elite Eight squad, and they have suffered season-ending knee injuries to two of their post players. Brandon Cole tore his anterior cruciate ligament last week in Xavier’s loss to Miami (OH), joining Boubacar Coly, a 6’-9” freshman forward who suffered a season-ending knee injury prior to the start of this season. Dana said he will give the Jays a couple days off to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday and rest a bit after their 5-0 start, and he’ll have this team ready for their first true road game of the season. Jays win in Cincinnati.