Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Creighton 71, Bradley 62

I guess I wasn’t ready for the “new-look” Creighton basketball team. Through 11 games, I thought I had a good grasp on what this team could and could not do. They had played with a constant intensity that left coach Dana Altman and Jays fans everywhere wanting more. Their defense inside of the three-point arc lacked muscle through the first month of the season, and it looked like the Jays would be content the rest of the year to live and die by the three-point shot. But fans could see the possibilities: the athleticism and raw talent of the younger Jays.

Those possibilities showed in the victory over Bradley, along with two traits this Creighton team had not shown on the court since early December: the fire of motivation and a reckless abandon for the basketball. In a Missouri Valley Conference season where most games will be close, those two team characteristics will affect the outcome of every contest. Do you want it more than the other guys? Will you do everything in your power to get to the rebound? To the loose ball? Last night the answer was a resounding “yes”.

It was a new-look Creighton team from the opening introductions. Gone were starters Jimmy Motz and Kellen Miliner, both players struggling in different aspects of the game during the past few weeks. Freshman Dane Watts earned his first start of the season. Altman also tapped Johnny Mathies, a starter at point guard most of last season, to begin the game. I wouldn’t say the Jays became too comfortable with the rotation this early in the season, but since the Guardians Classic wins and the victory over Nebraska, complacency could be seen in too many stretches of action. Joining Watts and Mathies in the starting lineup were Tyler McKinney, Nate Funk, and Anthony Tolliver, and we were on our way.

The Qwest Center was busy filling up as the Jays and Braves jumped the opening tip, and from the beginning of the game until halftime, the Jays played with more intensity than they had in any stretch of the previous four games. Leading the way was Anthony Tolliver, who absolutely would not be denied of some crucial first-half rebounds. He also added his loudest four points of the season, on two dunks that excitedly incited the 14,235 in attendance. Tolliver finished the game with just those four points, but it was his nine rebounds in 20 minutes that showed his renewed vigor and determination, along with his adjustment to the speed of the college game.

At the end of the first half, which was marred by questionable officiating and prolonged periods of turnovers by both squads, most Jays fans had to be impressed. Creighton won the first half battle of the boards, committed fewer turnovers than Bradley, and actually shot above 40% for the first opening 20 minutes in a while. But the score was tied 30-30. The second-guessing and nervous questions swelled in my head: Can we hold the same intensity for the rest of the game? Does this team know how to close out a close game? Can we really out rebound these guys the entire game?

But Creighton did it. They kept diving after loose balls. They kept causing tie-ups and forcing turnovers. Most importantly, they hit some big shots. Led by Funk’s career-high 22 points, the Jays shot nearly 50% in the second half and finished at 45% for the game. New starters Watts (11 points, 3 rebounds) and Mathies (13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 monster blocked shot) gave the Jays a lift offensively, and both made big shots down the stretch. While they didn’t put the Braves away, Creighton should be proud of the consistently high level of effort on display against Bradley.

Creighton avoided starting conference play 0-2 and will now go on the road for a redemption game at Drake next week. The Jays should be prepared for a tough game, as most of the contests in the conference will be decided by the intangibles – diving, sprawling, sprinting, and willing. Hopefully the motivation and the reckless abandon stick around longer than the usual New Year’s resolutions, because those are the traits the will define this season for the Jays.

  • Jeffony Tolliday scored nine points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 39 minutes of play. Tolliday also added two assists and two blocked shots while only committing two turnovers. Both Tolliver and Jeff Day snagged some big boards, with Tolliver turning in his best performance since the Ohio State game in Kansas City. Anthony did a great job of tipping balls and keeping them alive even if he couldn’t get a solid grasp on a rebound. When you consider they had the seven-foot freshman Patrick O’Bryant and conference meal ticket Marcellus Sommerville to contend with in the paint, Tolliday’s numbers speak volumes about the two-headed center’s effort.

  • I wasn’t able to listen to the post game radio show, but if Mathies wasn’t the Payflex player of the game he should have been. I know Funk dropped a career-high on the Braves and continued his great rebounding (7 boards), but Mathies took his usual spark-off-the-bench mentality and applied it from the opening tip. His stats were impressive (again, 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 blocked shot) but it was his intensity and his ability to push the ball toward the basket that made his minutes so valuable. I know that McKinney is the floor general, but defenders do not honor his scoring ability. Mathies makes people guard him, and even if they do he can blow right past them and make something happen on his way to the rim.

  • Patrick O’Bryant will be a force in the Valley for next couple of years, but just because he blocks a lot of shots doesn’t mean he plays great defense. While Tolliver and Day did not do an enormous amount of damage offensively in the paint, guys like Watts, Funk, and even Mathies found themselves open repeatedly in the lane. The reason O’Bryant blocks a lot of shots, other than his natural size and wingspan, is the fact that he allows guys into the paint in the first place. Once he learns how to use his arms to keep opponents from sneaking past him in the low blocks, he will be arguably the best defensive threat in the conference. But he looked lost many times, and even when he blocked Watts’ dunk attempt in the second half, Dane came right down a couple trips later and laid the ball up in the paint.

  • I feel for Miliner. He just can’t seem to find his stroke, and his prolonged slump has to worry Altman. The Jays need all the viable perimeter scoring threats that they can find, and that includes Miliner. As the season rolls on, Miliner will find his stroke again. Once that happens, some of the pressure on Funk will subside, and the Jays will be able to score from the outside like they did in the early weeks of the season.

  • Kudos to the crowd for the boost in energy at the Q. More than 14,000 cheered the Jays to victory, with a paid attendance of more than 15,000. Say what you want about the atmosphere at Creighton games, but there is no denying that the Q is the crown jewel of both Creighton athletics and the revitalized Omaha downtown. Considering the game was on television locally, the large turnout is even more impressive.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Evansville 63, Creighton 61

I must have been a bad boy this year, because last night’s game feels a lot like a slab of coal. Or was it that the basketball gods tried to even the score with a Jays team that won three games on miraculous shots in the first two months of the season? Maybe it was the 40% shooting and the 16 turnovers.

Whatever the reason, dropping this game really hurts. When the Missouri Valley Conference schedule came out a few months ago, the game at Evansville looked like one of the road tilts that the Jays could win. Of the three Valley games away from the Qwest Center, the trips to Evansville, Terre Haute, and Des Moines looked the most promising. Cross the first one off that list.

The Purple Aces are a fine enough team, but they won’t be confused with a Valley champion any time soon. The Evansville starters played a combined 168 minutes out of a possible 200. They were tired. They shot a lower percentage from the field, three-point arc, and free throw line in the second half. The Jays looked to capitalize on fresh legs and potent bench scoring (31 points off the pine for the game), and Creighton went on a 22-9 run (trailing 41-33 then leading 55-50). And then they stopped. The Jays stopped attacking. They let the Purple Aces catch their breaths. Tyler McKinney tried a couple of fancy passes that would have looked impressive had they been on target. Instead, they were his only two turnovers of the game. And just like that, the Aces were back in the game.

The good news was that the Jays won the rebounding battle, with Anthony Tolliver ripping down – yes, I actually used “ripping” and Anthony in the same sentence – eight boards. The pieces of bad news were the turnovers, the disparity of points in the paint, and the woeful shooting (again). The Jays shot 36% from the field in the first half, after which they trailed by six. They finished at 40% for the game, including a distressing 35% from beyond the arc. On a team where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find points in the paint (outscored 34-14), the Jays will be in trouble if they can’t shoot better from the outside.

Which leads me to Kellen Miliner. After scoring 19 against High Point, 21 against Kent State, and 20 (including the game-winner) against Nebraska, Kellen has scored a total of 5 points in his last two games. Against Wyoming and Evansville (both losses), Kellen was 2-17 from the field, 0-9 from three-point range, and attempted only 2 free throws. It is extremely hard to believe that this type of offensive production will continue, but it illustrates just how fragile Creighton’s offense is.

Nate Funk continues to work extremely hard for his points, but when are others going to step up? With little offensive production in the paint, every one of the perimeter players needs to have solid games, or there will be slack to pick up. Jimmy Motz is a non-issue because he doesn’t create his own shots. But is young Dane Watts ready to take over the bulk of the minutes? He looked like it against Evansville. What about Johnny Mathies? He continues to provide a spark on the bench (playing an average of 22 minutes per game), but he ebbs and flows. He has four games of double-digit scoring, including an 18-point performance against Missouri. But he also has four games of scoring two points or less. Johnny has 21 steals – almost 2 a game – and the Jays need his defense on the court.

For the most part, the first two months of the season treated the Jays kindly. If you had told me that they would be 8-3 when I wrote the season preview in November, I’d have taken that. But after losses in three of their last four games, the New Year can’t come fast enough. One resolution must be that the Jays play the rest of the season with renewed passion, because they wont be able to rely solely on their talent against this year’s Valley opponents.

Happy Holidays! Go Jays!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Wyoming 68, Creighton 64

There are numerous benefits of my dad and I having season tickets three rows behind the visiting team’s bench. Obviously, I am close to the game action. But there are other advantages to close seats: watching the opposing players interact with each other, meeting some of the diehard fans that travel to Omaha following their team, and even witnessing the players trying to flirt with the Creighton dance team.

There are really only two times when the proximity of our seats backfires; when the opponents are playing well enough that the bench players stand and obstruct the view of the south side of the court, and when a visiting team leaves the Qwest Center with a victory, dancing and laughing and congratulating on their way to the locker room. Surprisingly enough, all of those things happened last night against Wyoming.

There was the good and the bad last night, along with the ugly. More than 12,000 people packed into the Q last night, marking the largest crowd of the season. They saw a loss to a Wyoming team missing their best player due to injury and that turned the ball over 25 times. That wasn’t even the ugly: the Jays lost by four points and missed 10 free throws (57%), shot 32% from the field, and hit only 7 of 25 three-point shots (28%). Oh, and they were out rebounded by 20 (50-30).

However, the Jays could have won the game. Led by Tyler McKinney, the Jays dished out 15 assists and only committed nine turnovers. Jeffery Day showed some solid offensive moves, taking what the sizeable Cowboy frontline gave him and knocking down a couple of medium-range jump shots. But the lack of offensive execution was too much to overcome. The Jays started cold from the field and became hesitant from the perimeter.

And don’t discredit how Wyoming played – beyond those 25 turnovers is a team that caused numerous match up problems with their height and rebounding skills. Wyoming’s starters made the most of their minutes, scoring all but three of the Cowboy points. Oh, and they blocked eight Bluejay shot attempts (6’11” forward Justin Williams redirected seven himself). But you get a sense that had the Jays not started so slowly offensively, the outcome would have been different.

I’ve only seen four teams run past our seats at the Q celebrating a victory over Creighton, and it doesn’t get any easier after each time. This team will bounce back – Dana Altman would expect nothing less. Plus, this Jays team can’t shoot THIS bad in too many more home games this season, can they? I’d bet our seats on no.


  • Jeffony Tolliday played 30 minutes, scoring 17 points and pulling down eight rebounds. Jeffery Day did most of the damage, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes and adding a blocked shot and two steals while playing his most aggressive defense of the season. That aggressiveness cost Day though, and he fouled out with just less than five minutes to play. His minutes were solid, and hopefully he will apply the same force and urgency as the season moves forward.

  • Dane Watts experienced his most vivid freshman moment of the season, and unfortunately his woes on the court last night snowballed from unfortunate to unlucky. After making a solid move to the basket and throwing down a dunk early in the first half, the referees called a technical foul on Watts for hanging on the rim. I won’t comment on the call, but any Jays fan feels the same way about it. After that, Watts took nothing but open shots (16 total) and missed almost all of them (including 0-5 from beyond the arc). He has a fluid, natural shooting motion but the shots were just not falling. It was encouraging to see him shoot through his woes, because he is only going to get better

  • Junior college transfer Nick Porter didn’t see playing time after being cleared to compete after recovering from knee surgery. Many in attendance were looking forward to seeing Porter, a physical guard with a reputation for creating his own shots, but Jays fans will have to wait until at least Wednesday to see Porter’s first action as a Jay.

Next Game

Creighton needs to bounce back and start Missouri Valley Conference play on the right foot, and the Jays travel to Evansville to take on the Purple Aces. The Jays have not played well in their last two games at Roberts Stadium, and Evansville has improved under head coach Steve Merfeld. Altman will need big games from guards Nate Funk and Kellen Miliner offensively and on defense, but the most important contribution will come from the frontline. For the Jays to succeed this year, they need to improve their rebounding and their offense in the post. And it needs to start in Indiana.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Creighton 50, Nebraska 48

I’m sitting at the desk, pondering my next move. What should I write? What should I do? I have no emotion on my face, save for a blank stare as I contemplate how to put into words my extreme pleasure with another Creighton victory over Nebraska. When I’m not typing, my hands move to the sides of my head, as if I’m trying to prevent an onslaught of migraine headaches.

I guess I look a lot like Barry Collier.

It is too arduous a task to put into words how I feel about this win. I don't like Nebraska basketball. I grew up watching Danny Nee’s Husker teams dispose of the Jays as if they were merely dingy floor mats on the Huskers’ way to the Big 8 and Big 12 conference seasons. My detest for NU hoops grew from a jealousy of basketball talent, success, and media coverage. While life as a Jays fan has been great during the recent regular season meetings between CU and NU, my negative feelings boiled over as I sat in my seats last March and watched Nebraska’s Nate Johnson dance off the Qwest Center court in front of me, celebrating a Nebraska victory in the NIT and the end of Creighton’s season.

I have friends that love Husker hoops. I love watching Husker football. But Creighton has been, is, and forever will be a cornerstone in my life. But I will be satisfied with nothing less than a non-conference road win over a sub-par BCS-conference team ripe for the beating. End of story.
The thing is, Collier helped out today. He didn’t get between the Jays and the victory; he sealed the deal.

Let me get this straight. Your opponent has two "centers," with each in serious foul trouble from the 10 minute mark of the first half on. You have a 6'10" center with great hands and an amazing ability to grab offensive rebounds, and he scores the first 4 points of the game for your team. He puts up 6 points and 7 rebounds, on his way to a double-double (which he has a couple of already this season), when you inexplicably take him out of the game. You pull him from the lineup, leaving a worn-down senior from Council Bluffs and a 6'9" guard from Grand Island to anchor the paint for your team. As your team’s lead withers away, the 6'10" center stays on the bench, not able to rebound from the pine or affect the opponents’ shots in the paint. And then you lose.

Sounds like a great piece of coaching, huh. I don’t mean to be so negative toward Collier, but the scenario above is just another indication that come crunch time, Collier is not the coach a team would want leading the way. Lead is a strong word, too, because many times all you see is Collier sitting on the bench, head in his hands, trying to figure out how a school from a mid-major conference comes down to Lincoln and wins for the third straight time.

But that is what makes Dana Altman so special. He was clearly not pleased with the way his team played. The Jays’ offense disappeared for the second straight game, and once again they were out rebounded and completely dominated in the paint. But Altman didn’t stop coaching. He is vocal – whether positive or negative – and he lets his team know that he is there for each and every player on the squad. You never get the sense that Altman has quit on his squad, and for that his players repay him with hustle and hard work. Things were not going Creighton’s way for the first 30 minutes of the game, but that didn’t keep Tyler McKinney, Kellen Miliner, and Nate Funk from picking up the Jays – and the entire population of Creighton supporters watching or listening to the game across the nation – and carrying them to victory.

I will pick Creighton to beat Nebraska each and every time they play, and I won’t make that decision based on player talent, skill, height, or depth. I will go with the Jays every time because of Altman. He is the quintessential collegiate basketball head coach, and it is for this simple reason – he puts in as much effort and sweat for his team as he expects from them. He is the reason the Jays won today, and he is the reason the Jays will continue to win for years to come.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Kent State 67, Creighton 58

I guess this is what growing pains feel like. Depressed and discouraged, I waited for Dana Altman to share his side of the story on the post-game radio show as I drove home from the Qwest Center after Creighton’s first loss of the season. I knew Altman would use another ‘D’ word – disappointed – and I listened to him give a big I-told-you-so to all of the Jays players and fans that wouldn’t listen to his warnings that this year’s squad did not yet completely buy into rebounding and defense. Whenever a team allows an opponent to shoot about 50% from the field and hold a +9 rebounding advantage, you’re chances of winning are not good.

Dejectedly I checked other Missouri Valley Conference scores, quickly realizing it was not a good night for the Valley; Southern Illinois lost on the road and Northern Iowa put up a fight but ultimately lost to Iowa. I then called my girlfriend, who is a brilliant Creighton fan and more levelheaded about the Jays than I am.

Me: “Hi – they got killed.”

Her: “You didn’t think they would go undefeated, did you?”

And just like that, I was cured. No, I didn’t think they would go undefeated. In fact, my entire outlook coming into the season was one of nervous optimism with a twist of uncertainty. For most of the first seven games, the Jays played with increasing chemistry and desire. Some of those early games were close and some were not, but this loss to Kent State serves as the ultimate teaching tool for this year’s Jays: if the chemistry and desire is not there, the defense and rebounding will be absent, and the odds will shift against you.

These are idiosyncrasies and characteristics that Altman preaches relentlessly, and with so many new faces on the roster and seeing playing time, it will be up to them to take Coach’s instructions and apply them. Instead of baby steps early in this season, it seemed as though guys like Dane Watts, Anthony Tolliver, and Pierce Hibma were making giant strides. The loss to the Golden Flashes proved just how quickly one stride forward can lead to two steps back.

But the loss also serves as a reminder to Jays fans everywhere: when you watch or listen to this team play, check your psyche at the Qwest Center box office. These guys are young, and at times there are only two or three guys on the court that truly have experience scoring in bunches. They have talent and good fundamentals, but without solid effort and passion they’ll quickly fall in line with the rest of the Valley. Night in and night out, they need to want it more than the other team – end of story.

No, I didn’t think they would go undefeated. And no, they didn’t play a very good game. But in the first seven contests, we have seen this team play for each other, and they’ll take the same approach to learning from this defeat. They’ll take baby steps together, hopefully leading to bigger strides.

Thoughts (as I try to keep this positive)…
  • The local newspaper, the Jumbotron operators at the Qwest Center, and even this column put this game on the shoulder of Nate Funk and whether or not he would be ready to play against Kent State. Funk did not disappoint, either, scoring 14 points on 4-10 shooting from the field, leading the team (again) with 7 rebounds, and adding 3 assists and 2 steals in 30 minutes. However, there were only a handful of times he drove to the basket and drew contact, which I’m sure is directly related to the soreness in his shoulder. Without the dribble penetration, the Kent State defenders were content with getting in his jersey (literally, on one possession, which was shockingly not called a foul) and forcing him into shots from the perimeter. He is a gutsy kid, and the younger Jays can learn a thing or two from him about desire.

  • Kellen Miliner led the Jays in scoring for the second consecutive game, pouring in 21 points on 7-11 shooting. He was the only Jay hitting from the outside, as 12 of those points came off 4-7 shooting from behind the arc. However, Miliner committed 4 of the 18 Creighton turnovers, and was visibly frustrated by the physical defense played by Kent State. He was knocked around and shoved in the back, but as a senior leader he needs to take that frustration and turn it into positive energy. I sincerely believe he will take the reins over the next couple of games and couple with Tyler as the more vocal leaders of this squad.

  • Jeffony Tolliday was reduced to just Jeff Day in this loss, as Anthony Tolliver logged a very difficult 10 minutes on the floor. Tolliver went 0-2 from the field, 1-6 from the free throw line, grabbed no rebounds and turned the ball over twice. Kent State tried to punish him physically and it worked, with Tolliver picking up 3 fouls in those 10 minutes of play. Day came off the bench to add 9 points on 3-6 shooting from the field, pulled down 6 boards, and added two monstrous blocked shots in 26 minutes on the floor. Tolliver needs to continue to grow in his role, as the game speed last night favored Day’s quickness and athleticism.

Next Game…

I’m going to write a separate piece previewing Saturday’s tilt with Nebraska. The Jays have a few factors on their side going into the Devaney Center this weekend.

  1. They haven’t lost in Lincoln for a while.
  2. They should respond well to a loss.
  3. Saturdays haven’t necessarily treated Husker athletics well in the past few months.

Check back for more on Friday.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Creighton 79, High Point 60

It’s pretty hard to type with your fingers crossed.

On Friday afternoon, I heard that Nate Funk was experiencing some soreness in his shoulder. I immediately flashed back to December 2001, when Kyle Korver experienced some soreness in his knee and had arthroscopic surgery as a result. During that stretch, the Jays had a tough game at home against a David West-led Xavier team, and the Jays dropped a heartbreaker to the Musketeers.

So, I showed up about an hour and a half early for Saturday’s game versus High Point just to see if Funk would be warming up. As Tyler McKinney, Jimmy Motz, Anthony Tolliver, Dane Watts, and even Nick Porter came out to shoot around and loosen up, there was no sign of Funk. He always comes out early to shoot, so I immediately started chewing down my nails. As the seconds ticked off the clock before tip, it was looking more and more like Funk would be a game-time decision.

When my buddy Panon and I saw Funk in street clothes talking to his dad before the game, my thoughts were not on the game against the Panthers, but rather the upcoming game against Kent State in Omaha. I figured Dana Altman could get some of his bench guys more minutes against High Point, but it was hard to watch the game on Saturday knowing Funk might not play against the Golden Flashes.

Ever since the tip-off, I’ve been wishing and hoping and praying that Funk will be ready to go against Kent State. I’ve done everything: crossed nail-less fingers, spent some quality time at St. John’s, even busted out my old Altman’s Army yellow t-shirt for good luck. If the Jays can go 2-0 this week with wins over Kent State and Nebraska, then a second- or third-place finish in the Missouri Valley Conference will give them a chance of receiving an at-large bid come Tournament time. Without Funk on the floor, the two tough contests this week would be extremely difficult to win. It may be hard to get some work done Monday and Tuesday, but I’ll keep ‘em crossed.


  • People may wonder how the Jays keep shooting so well from the field. It seems logical that opposing defenses would put increased pressure on Creighton’s perimeter players, due to the lack of experience for the Jays offensively in the paint. Through their 7-0 start, Altman’s team has been passing the basketball extremely well, and the effective ball movement has really allowed guys like Motz, Johnny Mathies, and Kellen Miliner to get some wide open looks from beyond the three-point arc. It obviously starts with McKinney, who had another solid game against High Point (10 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 turnovers in 33 minutes), but even guys like Watts are passing crisply and to the right teammates.

  • If you go back to the season preview, you’ll see that I have been extremely high on Watts’ potential in Altman’s offense. The freshman I didn’t write about at length, but that has given the Jays some great minutes all season, is Pierce Hibma. Hibma is smart, aggressive, and gives great effort the entire time he’s on the floor. Known as a slasher offensively and a lock-down defender, Hibma chipped in 13 points, 3 rebounds (all offensive), 3 assists, and 1 steal in 25 minutes of play. He is a great example of someone who is making sure the offense doesn’t stall – he makes the extra pass and tries to get the proven scores like Miliner quality looks at the basket. He has jumped ahead of Quincy Henderson in the rotation, and Hibma will continue to see more playing time as the conference season gets closer

  • Jeffony Tolliday is the starting center for the Jays for the rest of the season. Jeff Day and Anthony Tolliver both play about the same minutes in Altman’s system, so we’ll just refer to them as one person as far as statistical breakdowns go for the rest of the year. Against High Point, Tolliday turned in another solid performance, scoring 13 points on 4-9 shooting from the field, with 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots, 2 steals, and only 1 turnover in 36 minutes of play. A lot of the teams in the Valley don’t have more than one center sharing a majority of the minutes, so Tolliday has a chance to put up some consistent numbers this season.

  • It is a shame that Dennis Howard seems lost on the court. He has such a great body and athleticism for Altman’s defensive system, but he just can’t get going offensively. It all starts with grabbing the basketball – Howard has multiple passes bounce of his hands and there are a few rebounds he fails to control. He looks frustrated when he is out there, because he knows that he is better than he is playing right now. The good thing for Howard is that because Altman plays a deep rotation, there is always going to be a chance for him to make a statement and have a good game. Maybe that is all he needs – one good outing to boost his confidence and show he belongs in major Division-I hoops.

  • Speaking of rebounding, the Jays lost the battle of the boards again on Saturday. It is going to be crucial that the Jays control the boards against Kent State and Nebraska this week. Watts is going to have to continue to come off the bench and help out down in the paint, because Motz plays with more of a guard mentality and doesn’t always use his height to his advantage. High Point did put a lot of height on the court, but the Jays just need to out-hustle opponents to loose rebounds.

  • It was great to see Miliner have a good game offensively, because he was robbed of a breakout performance against Xavier. In that game, he started out 2-2 from the field and hit some big shots for the Jays. However, a couple of phantom fouls relegated him to the bench and limited him to only 19 minutes on the floor. He finished with 12 in Cincinnati, but he scored 14 in just the first half against High Point. Miliner finished with 19, moving his season average to 12.4 points per game. He will need to continue his torrid shooting from beyond the arc (51.6%), especially if Funk misses any more time with his shoulder injury.

Next Game…

Jason Edwin leads the Kent State Golden Flashes into Omaha on Tuesday night, in a return game of last year’s ESPN Bracket Buster fiasco. The Jays were thumped by the Flashes last February, and this year’s Kent State squad is arguably better than last year’s. Edwin averages 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game so far this season, which included a win over a quality ACC team (Florida State) and a close loss at Marquette. The Jays win a close one, as Altman and McKinney won’t let this team look ahead to the Showdown with the ‘Skers.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Creighton 73, Xavier 72

Resiliency is a funny thing. You hate to see a team be resilient, because that means they are losing. We were not losing after the first half against Xavier – we were getting crushed. Combine the electric atmosphere at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, the favorable “home” calls given to Xavier most of the game, and the lack of defensive presence in the paint for the Bluejays for 20 minutes, and you get a nine point deficit at half. As Dana Altman said in his post game interview, the coaching staff was very disappointed with the first half. “Things were not exactly going our way,” Altman said wryly, acknowledging what most Jays fans watching the game saw – tic-tac fouls on the Jays, no-calls on Xavier, and an apparent shot clock operator who felt the need to pause the 35-second clock during the Jays’ best press of the night.

But that is the great thing about resiliency – if you show heart, determination, and play harder and smarter than your opponent, you can come back from anything. Creighton shot 33% from the field in the first half while being out rebounded 26-6. The Jays were getting manhandled in the paint on both sides of the court, and all of a sudden jump shots were not falling for the boys in blue. To only be down 9 points at half was somewhat of a surprise. What wasn’t surprising, though, was that the Jays came back. You knew that Creighton wouldn’t play 40 minutes of bad basketball, and with the shooters the Jays put on the floor 9 points isn’t necessarily an insurmountable deficit.

So how did the Jays win this game? How resilient were they in the second half? They out rebounded Xavier 16-10 in the final 20 minutes. They hit 5-7 three-point shots (71%), shot 52% from the field overall in the second half, and hit 7-11 from the free throw line. Most importantly, they turned the ball over five times. FIVE! In front of a hostile crowd, against arguably the most athletic team the Jays have faced this year, in their first true road game of the year. And three of those turnovers were by Nate Funk, as he tried to make some type of offense for himself after the Musketeers pressed him defensively beyond the arc and limited his open looks from the perimeter.

The Jays kept their composure. The easy thing for this team to do would have been to quit. They could have responded negatively to the phantom foul calls in the first half, or the repeated dunks that Xavier’s big men kept throwing down. But in the end, it was Xavier’s coach Sean Miller wilting under the pressure. It was my favorite picture from the game – the opposing coach, who’s team lost 11- and 8-point leads in the second half, with a bulging bead of sweat on his brow, trying to draw up a play with 11 seconds left and his team trailing by 1 point at home.

The Jays never quit last night. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of quit in this team. I guess that is what happens when your leader is Tyler McKinney, you have a group of new players with everything to prove, and your coach will not accept poor effort. That is resiliency.
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