Creighton 82, New Mexico 75
For 30 minutes Sunday, Steve Alford’s New Mexico Lobos were the better of two pretty good teams at the Qwest Center. But as any Jays fan who frequented The Phonebooth since it has opened in 2003 could tell Indiana Steve, the last 10 minutes of a game at the Cardiac Q can often erase the mistakes made in the first 30. Those issues aren’t forgotten, but they’re forgiven thanks to timely defense, a few big rebounds, and the offensive fireworks this Creighton team is capable of unleashing.
As Piv alluded to in his post-game report, the list of victims on the wrong end of the scoreboard at the Cardiac Q is about as long as Justin Carter’s hair:
- Last season’s Senior Night versus Bradley (aka Cavel’s Conquest)
- The Wichita State game (which Wichita State game?)
- UNI's visit in 2005
- And a few the Jays weren't on the right side of
And as late as the 5 minute mark in the second half, it seemed like this highly anticipated team’s season opener would fall into that last category; we'd be lucky to have fought back to a close contest after the putrid defense and rebounding in the first 30 minutes of action.
More than 16,000 folks packed into the Q for a Sunday afternoon season opener. But just as soon as Carter hit the first jumper of the game and put the Jays on top, the Lobos stormed back to take a 15-point first half lead. CU would cut it to 10 at halftime, but all the signs were pointing to a leisurely Sunday letdown.
Or at least that would be the pessimist’s (and the realist’s) view. Others would say the Jays had ‘em right where they wanted ‘em. Dana Altman’s CU teams have seemingly made a habit out of staking teams to a big first half lead, whittling away the deficit over the first 10 minutes of the second stanza, and then pouring it on down the stretch to give the crowd their money’s worth.
When P’Allen Stinnett connected on a seemingly impossible alley-oop dunk from Carter to cut the lead to 6 points with 15:53 to play in the second half, that modus operandi looked to be in full affect. The Lobos answered with an 8-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Chad Toppert (the second best 3-point shooter percentage-wise in the nation last season).
Did the accomplishments exalted in this year’s second-half video catch the Jays’ attentions?
By the 10:17 mark, you could forgive the fans if there wasn’t much buzz in the lower or upper bowls of the arena. Facing a 16-point deficit and seemingly unable to grab key rebounds, the Jays needed some stops quickly to avoid four days of self-doubt before their next game.
So they played some defense. Kenton Walker (3 points, 5 boards) got a steal that led to a Carter basket. The Jays forced a turnover, which led to a 3-pointer by Booker Woodfox (one of many more to come to close the game for the Jays). And the rest of the avalanche ensued, with flurries of Stinnett and Woodfox jump shots and long-range baskets, crazy Cavel layups, and 16,000-plus fans on their feet from the 6-minute mark until the Lobos left the court with their heads down.
All in all, the Jays outscored New Mexico 55-38 in the second half. They doubled their field goal percentage in the second half (60%) from the first half (29%). They shot 50% from 3-point range in the second stanza (with P’Allen and Booker combining to shoot 71% from long range in the final 20 minutes). And while missed free throws hurt the Jays again (especially in the first half, going 11-17), they were clutch from the line near the end (14-16 in the second half).
Stinnett finished with a career-high 30 points (11-16 from the field; 4 rebounds; 1 steal), and Woodfox also set a career mark with 26 tallies (8-13 from the field; 4 rebounds; 2 assists). But while Stinnett claimed the first MVC Player of the Week honor for this season, those weren’t the first guys Altman praised on the post-game radio show. That would be Josh Dotzler, the glue that held this still-young Jays team together when they needed it most.
"If it hadn't been for Josh getting our defensive motor going," Altman said, "I don't think we would have gotten back into the game, period." He scored just 3 points, but dished 3 assists (to just 1 turnover) and set the tone with his anticipation and heady defense (5 steals).
"A lot of our fans don't appreciate what Josh does for our ball team, but our players do and our coaching staff does," Altman said. "Today was an example of what he does for us. He got the right people the ball and he gave us a defensive presence when nobody else could. For a team that really needed a spark and for somebody to start competing, he was the guy that got us going."
The Lobos are a good squad, one that should finish toward the top of the MWC and fight for a berth in the NCAA tournament. And they were the better team for 30 minutes on Sunday. But as the crowd and the Jays could attest to, opponents are in for a full 40 minutes when they step into the Cardiac Q. Creighton might need all 40 of them, but more often than not they’ll come out on top.