Creighton 91, Dayton 90 (2 OT)
Last night was a special evening at Qwest Center OMAHA. It was a high-five-with-your-neighbors kind of night, a special atmosphere where more than 14,800 Creighton fans traded in composure and maturity for hoarse voices, hands warmed from clapping, and boisterous behavior.
On a Saturday night at the tail end of a holiday weekend, the Jays were the talk of the town in terms of the entertainment dollar. Fans filled the Q to the brim, with the south upper bowl the only section of the arena with many empty seats.
Not like people needed their seats, though. A majority of the final 3 minutes of regulation and the two overtime periods found Jays fans young and old on two legs, cheering an 11-point comeback by the home team and the dynamic duo of Nate Funk and Johnny Mathies.
The senior tandem combined for 62 of Creighton’s 91 points; 15 of Johnny’s 24 points came in the first half, while 31 of Nate’s 38 points came in the second half and two extra frames. It was just another chapter in what is becoming a story of tenacity and strength from both players, each of which repeatedly drove the basketball to the paint and picked up foul calls from the officiating crew.
But with so many forces working against the Jays – sub-par rebounding effort, huge scoring games from two of Dayton’s starters, and inconsistent whistles from the officials – it was the crowd that pulled this Jays team to 3-0. Don’t believe me? Believe coach Dana Altman.
In his post game radio interview, Altman credited the crazed crowd repeatedly, thanking the fans driving home from downtown for their stanch support throughout the evening’s contest. He reflected back to the days of the Old Barn – the Civic Auditorium – when trying to describe the atmosphere amongst the crowd, crediting last night’s fans with being the loudest ever at the new building.
The lines where long, the kegs at the Bud Bar were flowing, and the people were loud. This wasn’t a combined effort like the Creighton/Nebraska games two years ago; this was nearly 15,000 people together, giving a collective voice to the Bluejay Fever and helping propel this team to victory. The Jays could have folded to a solid Dayton team when they trailed by nearly a dozen in the second half, but the crowd wouldn’t go away. In turn, the Jays also refused to lose.
Don’t expect the next crowd to dwindle, either, as Nebraska comes to Omaha for a showdown two weeks from today – the game should easily sell out before tip-off. But before fans can focus on where to park in the Old Market on a busy Sunday afternoon, the Jays will play two big road games without their vociferous followers.
And while there will be a sprinkling of Jays supporters in Chicago and Chattanooga, I’d much rather leave those two games up to Nate and Johnny. The crowd only has so much energy, and it looks like those two never run out of gas.
Behind the Box Score
- If Nate Funk and Johnny Mathies led the Jays to a win against George Mason, what do you call their performances against Dayton? Gritty comes to mind. In a game where Dayton matched up extremely well at all positions with the Jays, the difference was the penetrating abilities of the Funk and Mathies. Nate made as many free throws (15) as Dayton had attempts from the charity stripe (15). He shot from the line 18 times, and only two of those free throw attempts came in the first half. Simply put, he forced his way into the paint and converted when the Jays needed points.
While Dayton tried to take Funk completely out of the game in the first half, Johnny carried the load offensively and went to the locker room with 15 points on 6-8 shooting from the field (a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc). He even played his usual steady defense, picking a few pockets with 3 steals. Overall, Johnny finished with a career-high 24 points, and more importantly picked up offensively where he had left off last season.
- Through three games, the verdict is nearly perfect for freshman Josh Dotzler: This isn’t your typical first-year point guard. Josh logged 41 minutes of action against Dayton (third-highest behind Funk and Mathies), scoring 6 points, dishing 7 assists, grabbing 3 steals, and only turning over the basketball once. Once. In a game decided by 1 point in 2 overtimes, that is one of the most telling stats of the night. Creighton beat Dayton 23-13 on points off of turnovers, and the fact that the frosh guard limited his mistakes is one of the main reasons Creighton pulled out the difficult victory.
- Anthony Tolliver experienced mixed results last night. He got a lot of good looks at the basket, with 11 shot attempts, but was slow in his moves to the hoop. That allowed Dayton defenders to collapse and help, which made for some contested shots for Anthony – only 4 of which went down for the A-Train (36% from the field). He finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds in 28 minutes of play, and he recorded 3 blocked shots in what amounted to some pretty strong defensive stands. All in all, though, Tolliver showed that when matched up against stronger post players, he has a ways to go on the offensive end. His best shots came when he employed a quick, decisive offensive move, not allowing the defenders to double-up on him in the low blocks.
- Jeff Day completely disappeared against Dayton, and Altman let him hear about it a few times coming off the floor. Day struggled to get position on the offensive end and gave up too many rebounds on the defensive glass, leading to no defensive rebounds in 15 minutes of action. Creighton ended up minus-19 on the boards, which is unacceptable to Altman and his staff. With Steve Smith still catching up to his teammates in reps, and with the NCAA taking its sweet time in the Manourou Gakou case, Altman knows he needs at least two solid post players to be successful. Day needs to step up immediately and assert his talents on the court.
- Another troubled spot for Creighton was the guard help for Funk, Mathies, and Dotzler. Nick Porter was ineffective in his 14 minutes of action, turning over the ball 4 times, only taking one shot from the field, and grabbing just 1 rebound (he had 10 boards against George Mason). The usually reliable defensive stopper Pierce Hibma struggled when guarding Dayton’s big scorers, giving up some easy baskets and some good looks from the field. He only played 11 minutes. For the Jays’ rotation to be advantageous and wear down the opponent’s bench, Porter and Hibma must make the most out of their minutes on the court.
- Speaking of the depth of Creighton’s bench, we didn’t see much of it against Dayton. Brice Nengsu, Steve Smith, and Dominic Bishop didn’t see the court, and Porter and Hibma played sparingly. Through 40 minutes of regulation and 10 minutes of extra time, five Jays logged 20 minutes or more of action. With two tough road games on the horizon, the newcomers need to step up and be ready to play quality minutes.