#20 Creighton 78, Mississippi Valley State 42
Another exhilarating year of Creighton Bluejay basketball is upon us, which means four things:
1. My cursing problem escalates for the better part of five months (during which I’ll even go so far as to give up cussing for Lent);
2. I will quench my thirst for the special Qwest Center Bud Light on average of twice per week;
3. My not-so-extensive collection of navy blue Creighton t-shirts will begin its frequent rotation, and the light shredding of fabric on the tip of my navy blue Creighton cap will continue;
4. I’ll start overreacting about each and every play of the Jays’ two exhibition games.
Ah, but this is a new year. I’ve turned over a new leaf. This year is going to be different. No more cursing (OK, that’s probably a stretch). I’m a year older, a year wiser, and I’m not going to overreact about the exhibition games — at least not in this blog. Last year, I wrote about the Chicken Little effect that is brought on by early-season basketball, and how I wasn’t going to let it pertain to me. But, then I used hundreds of words to describe an exhibition game — a game that didn’t even count in the record books.
So, I wrote a simple season preview and decided not to focus too much time or energy on those first two games. Granted, at times it looked like the Jays players went ahead with that same strategy, but I knew that they’d come out for the home opener and treat the Phone Booth Phaithful to some great effort. Dana Altman’s Jays did not disappoint, and because of that I didn’t drop too many cuss words (as far as you know).
Since everyone who dressed played (with the exception of Josh Dotzler, who is still on the recovery trail from knee surgery), and since I didn’t do individual player or position previews in the last installment of Bluejay Basketball, let’s start with the starters and move to the men off the maple.
- Anthony Tolliver was tied for the team lead in scoring (14 points), was perfect from the free throw line (6 for 6), grabbed 3 rebounds, and dished 3 assists in 23 minutes. A-Train — like the rest of his teammates — seemed to be a little more fired up for this game than the two exhibition contests, and it showed on the defensive end. Mississippi Valley State featured 7-footer Ronald Alexander, who tried his hardest to post up Tolliver and then Altman’s post-playing subs the entire night. Alexander’s final line: 2 points on 1-6 shooting from the field. Anthony was active and agile while guarding Alexander, exhibiting the kind of post defense that will make him one of the toughest low-block defenders in the Missouri Valley Conference.
- Nate Funk’s shot wasn’t falling with the consistency that Creighton fans have grown accustom to, but he still scored 13 points (on 5-11 shooting) and grabbed 5 rebounds while drawing a great deal of attention by Delta Devil defenders. He did hit a couple of three-pointers, and his command of the offensive and defensive ends is spectacular. Simply put, he plays and carries himself like a kid who doesn’t want to leave anything in the tank during his senior season.
- Nick Porter tied with Tolliver for the team led in points and grabbed a team-high 7 rebounds, but the best part of his night was his continued focus on driving the ball to the hoop and drawing contact. He’s deceptively quick with the basketball in his hand, and he elevates just enough to finish some tough hoops in traffic. He even hit 6 of his 7 free throws, a problem that plagued both Nick individually and the team as a whole last season.
- Dane Watts continues to struggle with his shot, both from the field and at the charity stripe. He finished with 8 points, but was just 2-10 from the field (including 0-4 from long range). But just like his teammates, he played with more passion on the defensive side of things, which led to 3 steals, a block, and 5 rebounds on the night. Hopefully the shots will start falling for Dane, as he looks to bounce back from last year’s mono-ridden season.
- Nick Bahe is keeping the point guard spot warm for Dotzler (last year’s starter-before-injury) and freshman Isacc Miles, who looks more and more like a difference-maker at either one of the guard positions. I’ll include Miles in this conversation about the starters because he played the most minutes (29) of any Jay and came off the bench so quickly (around the 18:30 mark in the first half) that he might as well have been the starter.
Both Bahe and Miles directed the offense relatively cleanly — just 2 turnovers between the two of them in a combined 49 minutes of play — but there is no question that the 6’2”, 205-pound Miles has the speed and court knowledge to lead this offense in the absence of Dotzler. Bahe’s outside shot shows promise, and he’ll always find his way on to the court because he’s a fiery competitor. Last year we barely had enough guys to play the point in a two-team scrimmage in practice; now we’ve got at least three guys who, when healthy, can seemingly lead this team. A nice problem to have, I’d say.
- As for the other substitutes, Brice Nengsu took another step toward fully unleashing the pure athleticism that continues to tease Creighton hoops hopefuls. His effort on defense and in rebounding is hopefully just the beginning of things to come; he has a tremendous shot, and it is evident that he gets more comfortable on offense as he’s making a difference on the defensive end. He had one year to incubate in Altman’s system, and he should be a difference-maker off the bench in each game by either hitting some medium- to long-range jump shots or throwing his body around when Altman calls for the full- or medium-court press.
- In fact, what is most impressive about the Creighton bench (aside from the depth and the sheer number of bodies that the coaching staff has to work with during practice) is the athleticism and physical prowess of our players. These guys look like they should be on the court, playing high-level D-I basketball. When Ty Morrison and Kenny Lawson Jr. are on the court, their arms and legs cut off seemingly all of the opponent’s passing lanes. They are both getting used to the speed of the game — Morrison from the junior college ranks and during his ongoing battle with Graves Disease, and Lawson as a fresh-faced 18-year-old from sunny California — but there is no denying that they’ll both make their fair share of plays in the immediate future for this team.
- And what would a successful night at The Phone Booth be without sightings of arguably the two hardest-working Bluejays: Manny Gakou and Dustin Sitzmann.
- The Big Man is down to 255 pounds — that’s right, down from almost 300 lbs. — and he looks agile and, pardon the pun, hungry to get the basketball. He wastes little time once he gets the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his 5 field goal attempts in 10 minutes of action (he scored 7 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, too). And don’t let the drop in weight fool you, he still throws guys around. He was whistled for 4 fouls, and at least two of them were the result of the referee just not knowing what to call after seeing a kid in a green “Valley” jersey fly three feet in the air. And everyone on the team tried to get Dustin the ball, but he was unable to get a shot off in his 2 minutes of action.
So, the sky isn’t falling, and they haven’t won a Valley league game or the league tournament or clinched a birth in the Big Dance, but victory #1 was a step in the right direction. The beer tasted as good as ever, the crowd was enormous for a season opener against a sub-par opponent, and I was able to find a clean navy blue shirt to ring in the occasion.
Now, if only I could work on that cursing issue…