CU 88, MSU 67; CU 65, ORU 64
How would they respond? That’s the question I asked myself almost once an hour starting last Saturday after 3 p.m. or so. As I wrote in the last installment, the Jays had just used one week of poor play to unravel what they had spent the three previous games creating — momentum and a decent at-large NCAA tournament resume.
I didn’t have to ask the same question in regards to my friends and fellow Bluejay die-hards. My cell phone started to buzz with activity shortly after Bradley demolished Dana Altman’s Jays, on the heels of Evansville once again upsetting the Bluejays in Roberts Stadium. Calls. Text messages. Heck, I almost expected to walk out onto my porch overlooking the Keystone Trail and see someone sending angry smoke signals from the trees across the creek, spelling “R-E-B-O-U-N-D” or something. Bluejays Nation, for lack of a better term, was freaking out.
But the only question running through my mind from the minute the final buzzer sounded against Bradley up until the starting lineups were announced against Missouri State was: how would they respond? Only the players know what they have gone through during this long and grueling season, both individually and as a team. Not the fans. Not the national media members, who have all but dismissed the Missouri Valley Conference this year as the mid-major conference du jour. Only the players know how much they wanted to win for each other, for the seniors, and for the coaches. Only the players know how important it is to continue on the streaks of consecutive 20-win seasons and consecutive 10-win conference years.
Watts' strong play in the past few games has led a Jays resurgence
And only the players could make the change. Get tougher. Show more energy and passion. Sure, coming home and playing within the friendly surroundings of The Phone Booth helped, but after looking at the stats I wonder if it would have mattered if only 5,000 people filled the seats last Tuesday night at Qwest Center. Dane Watts and the rest of the Jays, half of whom are entering the stretch run of their first season of Division I basketball, left little doubt against MSU and then at Oral Roberts that in fact they are alright, that they have something left in the tank, and that they aren’t done winning basketball games this season.
If P’Allen’s past two games are any indication, he’s still got something left in the tank
- The Jays shot 47% from the field; MSU hit 38%.
- The Jays outrebounded MSU 45-31 and led 13-6 in second-chance points.
- The Jays scored 24 points off of 14 Bears turnovers, while only giving the ball up 9 times themselves.
- The Jays swiped 10 steals.
Creighton took the lead for good with 12 minutes to play in the first half, pushed the halftime margin to 11 points, and then outscored the Bears by 10 more points in the final 20 minutes. All things considered, it was exactly the way Altman needed both his seniors and his young nucleus of talented players to respond.
A few more stat lines that jump out from the box score:
- Watts – 14 points (only missed 2 shots); 7 rebounds; 3 assists; 3 blocks; 4 steals. Nice.
- Stinnett – 19 points; 4-9 from 3-point range; 6 rebounds; 2 assists, 3 steals; only 1 turnover and 1 personal foul.
- Woodfox – 14 points; 3 rebounds; career-high 6 rebounds, only 1 turnover.
- Cavel Witter – 19 points (on 8-11 shooting); 5 rebounds; 5 assists; only 3 turnovers.
Witter’s line says it all. He scored no points, grabbed no rebounds, and generally looked disinterested in the action on the court during the loss at Bradley. But whatever he heard from teammates and coaches in the three days between the loss and the MSU game made an impact; he was on his game in every facet. He took shots at perfect times, he made the extra pass, and he made the simple plays. That’s all Altman is looking for at this stage of the season. Even though the win against MSU was a blow out, making the simple plays is what wins close games. See: CU’s win on the road at Oral Roberts.
Forget Busting Brackets and Focus on Getting Better
With a win in their pocket, the Jays packed their bags yet again for the annual ESPN BracketBusters event. I shouldn’t say “yet again,” though, because Creighton’s only been the road team one previous time during the first 5 years of the made-for-television mid-major showcase. They lost that game, at Kent State in 2004, a game that for all intents and purposes marked the end of the energy for that season’s Jays team.
So with any realistic chances of an at-large bid barely staying warm on the farthest of all back burners, Altman’s message to his team was probably relatively simple: use this game to get better. In preparation for the weekend-long spectacle that has become Arch Madness, the Jays will need any and all experiences under their belts to win three straight games in St. Louis a week and a half from now. The game at Oral Roberts offered a few things:
- A game at a true home court advantage: ORU hadn’t lost a home game all season.
- A game against a leader of another mid-major conference: ORU was 20-6 overall, with just one conference loss.
- A game against a taller, stronger team: ORU’s roster is loaded with beefy post players.
- A game against a team trying to send its seniors out on a winning note: it was Senior Day in Tulsa.
The entire ballgame was back and forth, with neither team giving in to the other. It was a study in solid play, with neither team committing an extended string of poor decisions throughout the afternoon. It came down to hitting some clutch shots, and for awhile it looked like ORU would take the cake in that battle. Stinnett missed the front end of a one-and-one attempt at the free throw line, and ORU got the rebound and drew a foul. They hit both free throw attempts, putting the Jays down by 2 points with less than 40 seconds left.
Enter Woodfox, the marksman from Texas who has spent the past two months warming up his shooting range until it has now reached a boiling point. The kid can flat out stroke shots from anywhere on the court.
(NOTE: My cousin from Lewisville, Texas, was in town this weekend. Watching the game, I pointed out Booker is from Lewisville and was set to represent the 972 that afternoon. Good thing he didn’t disappoint. Way to step up, Lewisville.)
So, just like that the Jays are 19-8 with two regular season games left. First up, a long-awaited rematch against Illinois State. The Redbirds handed the Jays their first MVC loss of the season (at The Phone Booth, no less), and it will be a couple of months since the two teams have seen each other. Then it is Senior Night on Saturday, against the possibly Daniel Ruffin-less Bradley Braves.
Booker's deft shooting has made him among the most potent players in the MVC
The kids are alright. They responded to a losing streak yet again. What they do from here out will define yet another year of Altman’s legacy. Despite the disappointment many casual fans have felt after the Jays posted 7 losses since starting the season 9-1, this year’s coaching effort by Altman has to be considered among some of his greatest seasons. Hopefully they reach deep and pull out a few more efforts like the wins against MSU and Oral Roberts.