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.
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.