Creighton 55, Northern Iowa 52; Creighton 69, Indiana State 53
Johnny Mathies set the tone during the very first play of Creighton’s 55-52 win at league favorite Northern Iowa. He intercepted a pass near mid-court and finished at the other end emphatically, laying the ball up and raising the spirits of all Jays fans watching the KM3 broadcast back in Omaha.
Fans had a reason to be nervous. The four road games previous to this one ended in Jays losses, and at least two of those set-backs were against teams arguably worse than the Panthers. However, a great defensive effort can make all the difference in a basketball game (just ask Southern Illinois), and Mathies’ play was indicative of just how Creighton planned to take a home game from Northern Iowa.
Creighton held the Panthers to 35% shooting from the field, including 35% from three-point land. The Jays weren’t exactly on fire from the floor, but 41% shooting, an edge in rebounding, and 7 steals combined for a close win on the road. And if ever there was a talented team in need of a close road win (against a probable NCAA tournament team, no less), this Jays team is it.
The Panthers – specifically Ben Jacobson – had plenty of opportunities late to win the game, just as Nate Funk did for Creighton at the UNI-Dome last year. But unlike his Sioux City brethren Funk, Jacobson couldn’t convert on a jump shot, a three-pointer, and a back-door lay-up, and Creighton made free-throws down the stretch to pull out the victory and give this team a much needed confidence boost.
Behind the Box Score
- Three Creighton Jays scored in double figures, led by Johnny Mathies’ 16 points. Josh Dotzler and Nick Porter added 10 points apiece, as the guard position dominated the game on both ends of the floor.
However, it was the lack of double-digit scorers for Northern Iowa that served as a testament to the solid defense Creighton played. Jacobson, the preseason player of the year in the Valley, finished with 8 points on 3-11 shooting, and the Panthers were paced by forward Grant Stout’s 9 points. Jacobson had his scoring chances, but good defense by Porter, Mathies, and Pierce Hibma stymied the league’s cover boy.
Creighton 69, Indiana State 53
A bad day in Indiana, that’s for sure. First of all, most of the Indiana State Sycamore fans were either watching the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome, at a local Terre Haute sports bar, or nestled on their couches at home. They weren’t at Hulman Center, that’s for sure.
And unfortunately for the blue and white-clad fans of both the Sycamores and the Colts, their teams suffered the same fates at about the same time Sunday afternoon. The Colts’ nemeses were the Pittsburgh Steelers – a physical team that physically outmanned the home team and converted calculated attempts from long range and in the red zone.
The same could be said for Dana Altman’s Jays on Sunday. Anthony Tolliver, Dane Watts, Nick Porter, and Manny Gakou (in his longest stretch of playing time this season) pummeled a smaller Sycamores squad, winning the rebound battle 36-27, while Tolliver, Watts, Porter, Pierce Hibma, and Johnny Mathies connected from long range and in the paint to pace the Jays in a blowout.
Fortunately for the Jays, Indiana State was without their Payton Manning: all-Valley star David Moss. It was evident from the opening tip that if Creighton could couple solid defense with some timely shooting, a victory would be in the cards. That happened, thanks in large part to leadership from Mathies and Tolliver and balanced scoring from a large cast of Bluejays.
With the win, Creighton swept the road trip and vaulted to second place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings. With four of their next five games at home, Creighton looks to make a push even higher in the race for the Valley crown. They’ll have to do it with defense, however, because four of those next five games are against arguably the most talented teams in the conference (Bradley, Wichita State, Northern Iowa, and Southern Illinois).
Sometimes great defense and solid pressure can beat talent. Just ask the Colts.
Behind the Box Score
- Anthony Tolliver and Nick Porter played great games against the Sycamores, and they especially looked in sync with one another. The two Jays played give-and-go a couple of times in the paint, and that teammate helped create Creighton’s 37-22 edge in points in the paint.
- Dane Watts, while not exploding here and there with huge offensive outbursts, keeps getting steadily better on both ends of the floor – even while experiencing foul trouble. Watts added 10 points and another 6 rebounds, bringing his season averages to 8 points and 6 boards per game.