Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kentucky 65, Creighton 63

A Win-Win Loss

This is always the hardest piece to write. Every year, about this time, Creighton’s basketball season comes to end with a loss. Some have been more difficult for fans and players to accept than others, but each leaves a sting that usually takes ample time to recover from.

With a few minutes left on Monday night against the Kentucky Wildcats, I allowed myself a split second thought of ending this season with a win. The Jays went toe to toe with a team littered with blue chip recruits and a few McDonald’s All-Americans for 39 minutes, the energy and atmosphere inside The Phone Booth were palpable, and for a fleeting moment I envisioned doing the same thing all over again two nights later.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. The Jays failed to win back-to-back postseason games yet again. But for the life of me I can’t remember a CU loss after which I felt so proud and satisfied. Perhaps that’s why, driving home from the Qwest Center for the final time this season, the outcome felt more like a win (in the long term) than a loss.


Let’s be clear, first and foremost, about what was expected of Dana Altman’s team coming into this once-in-a-lifetime visit from the Wildcats to Creighton’s home gym. The Jays were favorites in Vegas. They had home court advantage thanks to the #1 seed given to them by the NCAA, which runs the NIT event. But I’m sure a straw poll of Jays fans and casual basketball observers would have been about 50-50 (at best) when asked if they expected a Bluejay victory.

Didn’t matter. From the opening tip, the players were focused in all phases of their efforts. For hours before tip-off the fans were into it, too, packing Farrell’s to listen to the CU pep band and pound a few beers. A few Wildcat sweatshirts floated through the crowd of Jay backers, the nearly identical shades of blue blending into one sweet cacophony of basketball interest.

They braved a tornado warning, by the way. Those who showed up to The Phone Booth later than 4:45 but before 5:30 ended up being corralled into another area of the convention center so as to let the storm pass. But the environment was just beginning to turn hostile.

Minus pregame music on the scoreboard, and unable to harness the energy that comes from the LCD boards illuminating the arena with CU-specific marketing messages, the crowd was rowdy anyway. Sure, there were some people there to watch Kentucky. And there were people there to watch Kentucky and Creighton. But a vociferous majority (that’s for you, Verne!) was there to support about a dozen players and some coaches, and that’s it.

To Creighton’s credit, the players and coaches didn’t disappoint anyone in the building. I’m sure that in the back of some folks’ minds, the idea (or nightmare) existed that for all the excitement and buildup to the game the Jays would come out flat, get too caught up in “the name on the front of the jersey,” and get rolled. But to the appreciation of 16,900-plus in the Q and thousands watching across the country on ESPN, and much to the chagrin of opposing coaches and similar basketball programs nationwide, the Jays stepped up.

They stayed even on the boards with Kentucky. If I would have told you a few months ago that would happen, I’m 100% you would have slapped me. Seriously. They won the turnover margin, by 1. They out-swiped the Cats (9-7). They made more 3-pointers than UK. They limited Jodie Meeks, an All-American, to just 16 points in 30 minutes (8 points beneath his average) and Patrick Patterson to just 12 points and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes.

Unfortunately, it was in the areas that carried them so far this season that they experienced major setbacks against the Wildcats. The Jays shot 44.4% as a team this year from the field, good for 3rd best in the Valley and 126th best in Division I. Against the Wildcats Creighton put itself in a whole by shooting just 32% in the first half. And while the second 20 minutes saw them hit their season average (11-25 from the field), the Jays’ 37% paled in comparison to Kentucky’s 45% clip for the game.

And to be perfectly honest, Creighton wins on Monday if they hit some free throws late. The Jays shot 74.9% from the charity stripe this season, putting them in the top 20 nationwide in that category. Unfortunately for Altman and his players, Kentucky is a top 10 free throw shooting team, and the Wildcats didn’t miss a free shot in the second half (10-10 from the line).

Individually, many on Creighton’s roster gave their best efforts of the season. From a defensive standpoint, P’Allen Stinnett hasn’t played a better game as a Jay than he did on Monday. He accepted the challenge of trying to deny Meeks the ball all evening, and he gave everything he had on the defensive end of the court. Sure, Meeks score 16 points, but 7 of those came on the free throw line. It was difficult for him to run in the flow of Kentucky’s offense due to the pressure applied by Stinnett and guys like Josh Dotzler and Antoine Young for smaller lengths of time.

Justin Carter, who was overcome with emotion following the loss, gave Creighton fans a glimpse of what next season might be for him when he has the chance to slide to his natural small forward position. His 15 rebounds occurred because of determination and grit, which fueled his broad shoulders in battle against taller and in some cases stronger Wildcats. He had 7 offensive boards, which equaled the total rebounds for Kentucky’s Patterson. His pickpocket move of Meeks in the waning moments of the game set up one of the night’s most disheartening moments, but it was also pretty freaking outstanding defense.

Speaking of playing with determination and grit, enough can’t be said about Kenny Lawson and Kenton Walker stepping their games up against UK. Lawson put up 12 points, 5 rebounds (all offensive, by the way), 2 blocks, 2 steals, and an assist in 24 minutes. Walker spelled him off the bench for 16 minutes and was perfect from the floor for 7 points and blocked a shot.

And Booker Woodfox. What can you say? With the missed free throws, the turnovers, and Kentucky’s timely baskets, Creighton still had a chance to win in the last few seconds. Woodfox got a decent shot attempt from 3-point range, as Altman used the same play that had allowed Woodfox a clean look for the game-winner at home against Southern Illinois this season. This time, just like that, our forward set a clean screen and Woodfox’s shot was on target. Just a tad long.

Seriously, I went home and watched it at least 5 or 6 times. It was perfectly on line. It was just a bit strong. The guy had just played 25 minutes of the hardest basketball of his life, undersized against his defender every time he caught the ball. He still went for 18 points, grabbed 6 rebounds (one off his career high), drilled 3 3-pointers, and left commentators and fans breathless every time he had the ball in his hands.

Jays fans will be able to watch him shoot 3s one more time, but it was his last shot in a CU uniform that could have seriously injured thousands of people in the crowd. If his 3-pointer would have won the game against Kentucky, all bets were off as to how much damage some of the sections inside the Q would have sustained. It would have been epic.


And there it is. The first real “would have” of this post. The Bluejays clawed. They tried to overcome a poor night shooting the basketball. They exerted a huge amount of effort and energy, feeding off a frenzied crowd. Yet it came down to a couple clutch plays, plays that didn’t go the Jays’ way. And on the car ride home, Mrs. Creighton Otter and I were left with “would have”s. But my wife, always the optimist and realist, had a few great ideas.

She wanted to record the game on DVD and send it to each of the returning players. She wants them to watch how well they played, how much effort they brought to the court, and how much focus they displayed. She wants to show them the individual victories collected during what was ultimately a loss. She wants them to build on those wins, using them to pave the way for the returning Jays during the long summer ahead. Lift the extra weight. Shoot the extra shots. Spend the extra time in the gym or on the treadmill.

Prepare to win.

Monday, March 23, 2009

NIT Second Round Preview: #4 Kentucky (21-13)

The Pundits

“Jays look to have better fortunes against this year’s SEC foe” (OWH)
“Shatel: Jays have golden chance against storied Wildcats” (OWH)
“Kentucky wild for their cats” (OWH)
“Jays face 1-2 punch of Meeks, Patterson” (OWH)
“Jays relish battle with a big name” (OWH)
“Jays’ Woodfox works to shake shooting slump” (OWH)
“Morning News: Creighton Bluejays Edition” (A Sea of Blue)
“Gillispie says he ‘can’t control’ whether he’ll return to Cats” (Courier-Journal)
“Depth and range the Bluejay way” (Courier-Journal)

The Pick

Take a look at someone’s ticket stubs and you’re likely to catch at least a glimpse of what is important to a person. I stopped stuffing my stubs deep into my wallet years ago, but as a child and even into my teenage years my packrat behavior included savoring the little piece of history I received when walking through the turnstile at a game or concert and experiencing a fantastic event for a few hours.

During my formative Bluejay years, ticket stubs from various showdowns at the Civic would be strewn across my bedroom. In those days, the best of my memory, the Dynamic Duo and Ice and Matt Rock would have to hit the century mark in order to bestow free pizza pie piled high on the home fans. And even if my memory misrepresents that target score, it was much higher than 75. And while hitting a hondo happened a few times, more times than not I would just keep hold of the light blue and white stubs. They were the paper trail through my Creighton basketball seasons.

I have ticket stubs from the NCAA Tournament games in Chicago in March 2002. Numerous reminders from Arch Madness games (and championships). Not to mention stubs from some outrageous concerts and Cubs games. But if I’ve kept any, they are stored away in miscellaneous shoe boxes, sandwiches between yearbooks and old photos of high school proms.

At my work desk, I’ve even got some stuffed into my coffee-mug-turned-pen-holder, which over the past 5 years has been a refuge for random stubs rescued from my pants pockets a few days after the event. A ticket from former Mexican president Vicente Fox’s presentation at the Orpheum in November. A stub from last year’s Van Halen concert at the Qwest Center, a night with some musical legends whose heyday happened during those years of Harstad and Gallagher, too. A ticket from this year’s SIU home game and a stub from last year’s NIT win against Rhode Island, two examples of what can happen when a Jays team plays a full 40 minutes and doesn’t give up. There are a few throw-away stubs from some early games in the 2007-2008 season against the powerhouses Houston Baptist and Savannah State.

But tonight’s ticket might take the cake.

Take a picture, it will last longer.

As Piv noted in the World-Herald recently, Kentucky has played one true road game against a team from outside the “power” conferences in the past decade. As Panon pointed out yesterday at the bar, it was probably Memphis.

I’ve been struggling with how to weigh the importance of this game since the final buzzer rang against Bowling Green on Wednesday. And as much as I want to say ‘this is just another game’ or ‘anyone is beatable, we shouldn’t treat this any differently,’ I know it isn’t true. Truth is, this is Kentucky, a school that folks in Omaha could only think of seeing in person if they would have been placed in last year’s 1st and 2nd round games at The Phone Booth with Kansas and Wisconsin.

This is most likely a kind of stub I won’t see again in some time, and others in Omaha apparently feel the same way. There are 500 tickets left as of early Monday morning, and you can bet the ducats will have some added value as the clock creeps closer to 6 p.m. this evening. That’s when the biggest game in the Qwest Center’s relatively short history tips off, on national television, a showcase for Dana Altman’s program to take advantage of.

Whether they will or not is beside the point; all Jays fans have asked for is a shot at home against a team that for good reason would never think of making the trek from BCSLand to our humble home at The Phone Booth. It took some fortuitous bounces of the basketball these past few weeks to make it happen, and while I’m sure the Jays watched the Big Dance this weekend and wondered what might have been, this is the type of game that has eluded the Jays (both in the regular and post seasons) for the past few years.

And I, along with more than 17,000 fans, will have a stub to commemorate it. Win or lose, there’s something special about that.

Jays 68, Cats 65

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Creighton 73, Bowling Green 71

Worth the Wait

A lot can happen in 10 days. A college basketball team, and probably more likely its fans, can sit idly during spring break following one of its worst performances of the season and watch as college basketball pundits debate your efforts and qualities as a squad. Some like to call it a resume; with the fervor and intensity with which the information is argued about and vetted, it seems more like financial bailout legislation or some laws governing the search for weapons of mass destruction.

The way Jays fans talked and Vegas bookies laid odds on Monday and Tuesday, the only thing in the path of destruction was the Bowling Green Falcons. The Jays came in as a #1 seed in the NIT, double-digit favorites to “survive and advance” against BGSU and host any combination of Kentucky, UNLV, Nebraska, New Mexico, UAB, or Notre Dame in the next 10 days. This despite what had happened during the last 10 days which, as we all know, was nothing.

If it seems to happen every year, that’s because it does. The “it” is the slow start in Creighton’s first postseason game following the layoff between Arch Madness and either the Big or Little Dances. CU has made 14 postseason appearances under Dana Altman (10 of those first-round games in either the NCAA or NIT tournaments), and 12 times Creighton has trailed at the half. And it isn’t always because they were playing better teams; more often than not, they were rusty. That’s what happened against Bowling Green, and coupled with some deft shooting from the Falcons, it almost cost the Jays a chance at defending their #1 seed and home court advantage all the way to Madison Square Garden.

What does rusty look like at The Phone Booth? Try 0-11 from 3-point range in the first half. Try 34% from the field in the first 20 minutes. Conversely, check out the MAC champion Falcons. They hit 6 treys in the first half, shot 47% from the field, and with 8 minutes to play they held a 14-point lead. The effort was there from Altman’s Jays, but shots weren’t falling. A usually feisty crowd was neutered a bit by the neutral trappings of an NIT-sanctioned “home” game. And CU wasn’t exactly giving the fans anything to get overly excited about.

So Justin Carter decided he would get things going. His 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals in 11 minutes, coupled with solid play at the front of Creighton’s press, paved the way for some momentum to swing the way of the Bluejays. He had his hands full all night with the Falcons’ Nate Miller, who averages nearly 14 a game and went for 22 against CU. But he was the spark to start what P’Allen Stinnett and Antoine Young finished.

Two weeks ago, Stinnett played what I considered to be one of his least inspiring games of basketball in his two years as a Bluejay. I wasn’t sure how he or the other players would react after feeling like they were snubbed by the selection committee, but the sophomore unloaded one of his best all-around efforts against Bowling Green. He scored 6 points in the first half while picking his spots carefully, but Stinnett went for the kill a couple times in the second frame. He didn’t miss a shot from the field in the last 20 minutes, hit 8 of 9 free throws after attacking the rim, and dished 4 assists. Oh, and he committed just 1 second-half turnover. In all, Stinnett put up 18 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal in 31 minutes. He spent a good chunk of time in the second half on the floor at the same time as Young, who will take the reins of the point guard position next season following Josh Dotzler’s graduation.

Young didn’t dish as many assists as Dotzler did (1 to 4, comparatively), but his 12 aggressive points and speedy defensive closeouts helped the Jays battle back from that double digit deficit. He was needed offensively because Booker Woodfox was ice cold, just 2-11 from the field. Creighton didn’t lead from the 17:56 mark of the first half until the 4:44 mark of the second half, and they eclipsed Bowling Green on the scoreboard at that time because of a Woodfox 3-pointer (he hit just 2-9 from long range).

But in the end, Booker got just enough help from Carter, Stinnett, Young, and the rest of his teammates to salt the game away. I was really impressed with Bowling Green’s energy and focus, but they couldn’t become the first #8 seed to upset a #1 in the years since the NCAA took over the NIT.

And with the win, Creighton will host Kentucky on Monday. You read that correctly. Kentucky. At the Qwest Center. As assistant coach Brian Fish said today on Big Sports 590, “not Western or Northern or Eastern Kentucky. Kentucky.” It might take awhile for Creighton fans to get over the name on the front of the jersey, but I’m sure the 15,000-plus who will be in attendance in a few days will let the Wildcats know what they think of the winningest program in college basketball history.

They won’t have to wait nearly two weeks to do it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blue Monday

Jays Miss NCAA Field

After losing so badly in the semifinals of Arch Madness, fans of the Bluejays knew it would be an uphill battle for one of the at-large bids to this year's Big Dance.

I'm trying to not let the fact they didn't make it bother me. And I'm trying to forget that Arizona simply didn't win during the past month yet gets an at-large spot.

And I'm not, for any second, saying only the Jays should have been in instead of the Wildcats. Plenty of teams have a decent argument for that last at-large spot.

Don't believe me? Take a listen to Dick Vitale, below. Sure, he is a head wonk at ESPN, the television power that pretty much runs public perception of (and exposure to) college hoops. Painted as a homer for Duke and other major basketball powers, Vitale argues with Jay Bilas and some other talking heads about his perceived slight of "the little guys" like CU and Saint Mary's.

Oh, by the way, Creighton's a #1 seed in the NIT, which starts Wednesdsay at Qwest Center Omaha versus the Bowling Green Falcons.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Illinois State 73, Creighton 49

Great Expectations

I’m slowly starting to feel like a normal human being again. I’m lucky enough to work for a company that is flexible with office hours, which at the beginning of each March translates to a 400-plus mile drive (each way) for a weekend full of hoops and camaraderie in St. Louis.

Throw in an ailing back, shared hotel rooms with a dozen close friends, temperatures in the upper 70s, and cold beer fresh from the city’s world-renowned brewery, and I’m sure you can conjure enough ideas about why I might not be 100% right now.

But perhaps the most damning and destructive of ingredients my group of friends and I were exposed to this past weekend was the emotional rollercoaster set in motion by the Bluejays’ basketball efforts.

That’s what happens when great expectations meet poor execution.


The tone of this blog has been decidedly sunnier during the past month-plus of CU wins. With a 10-game win streak in tow to St. Louis, I don’t think it is a stretch to say Bluejay fans held great expectations – as they always do – for the team in the postseason tournament. But the sunniest part of the weekend, save for Booker Woodfox’s amazing shot against Wichita State (a shot that should have never been needed), was my Friday morning run from the Sheraton down Market street to the Arch.

At that point in time, the weekend was perfect. The bright sun beat down, shining off the enormous steel landmark, brought with it warm skies and smiling faces throughout downtown St. Louis. And while the weather would stay perfect for the length of our stay, Creighton’s month-long win streak would come to a gloomy end and cast a long, dark shadow on the team’s chances for playing in the NCAA tournament.

I already wrote a little bit about Creighton’s win over Wichita State while sitting in the Club Lounge of our hotel Saturday morning. With 16:41 to play the Jays held a 22-point lead (47-25). From that moment on, the Shox went on a 37-16 run. Heck, with 13 minutes left Josh Dotzler stole a pass near midcourt, was able to contort his body while lying on the ground, throw the ball behind his head to P’Allen Stinnett, who then finished with a Sportscenter-worthy dunk on the other end.

Save for Woodfox’s amazing game-winning shot that would be Jays fans’ final time to cheer in St. Louis. From that remarkable reaction by Dotzler and finish by Stinnett to the end of the game, Stinnett committed three turnovers, got a steal but missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity at the free throw line, and then committed another turnover with 13 seconds left and the Jays clinging to a 2-point lead. The sophomore, who in the first half was crashing the boards and playing pretty well, finished the game with 7 turnovers.

This shot, and Dotzler’s amazing pass, were about the only highlights in STL

Did the Jays survive? Sure. They could have coughed up a 22-point lead and lost the game (like Texas A&M did tonight in Oklahoma City), but instead gave more than 3,000 Jays fans in St. Louis a reason to breath a deep sigh of relief and prepare for a showdown against Illinois State on Saturday night. But in reality, the damage to Creighton’s chances in Arch Madness had been done during the last 10 minutes against WSU.


During the past two seasons, no team has given the Jays fits quite like Tim Jankovich’s Redbirds. It has been detailed here and here and here and here. It was fitting then, I guess, that in order to advance to the title game of a testy MVC tournament CU would need to conquer Illinois State on a neutral court. Sure, the Jays had posted a win in the regular season finale against the Redbirds, but that was on senior day in front of a home crowd eager for a taste of the regular season title. And while the Gateway City was filled with Jays fans all weekend, this game wasn’t going to come down to crowd support; matchups would prevails.

Unfortunately for Dana Altman’s Bluejays, they couldn’t matchup against Illinois State’s 55% shooting from the field and an astounding 68% accuracy from 3-point range. The Jays shot 22% in the first half against ISU, making just 7 field goals (including just 1 3-pointer). The Redbirds, on the other hand, hit 13 shots (6 of which came from long range) and physically destroyed Creighton’s chances of hitting a few easy baskets to reverse the poor shooting efforts.

It is no secret that the matchups Creighton would be favored in were all on the other side of the bracket. But after an 11-game win streak and a share of the MVC regular season title, it felt like the Jays’ dreams of dancing in March came down to a game (and an opponent) they just weren’t prepared for. Again, I stress the fact that it really didn’t matter what Creighton would have done offensively — the Redbirds were absolutely unconscious from the field, led by Osiris Eldridge and Champ Oguchi. But you have to wonder if the great expectations of an Altman team playing in St. Louis, where Dana’s squads have done so much damage in the past decade, were too much of a distraction from the task at hand: surviving and advancing.

Well, they certainly didn’t survive the onslaught brought by Jankovich’s Redbirds on Saturday. And their ability to advance to the goal they all had at the beginning of the season is in serious jeopardy, too.


In all honesty, I consider only 3 of Creighton’s 7 losses “bad” losses. Sure, losing a lead late at home against Northern Iowa felt bad at the time, but they won the league, too. And those two 2-point losses on the road in the same week of November conjured much consternation among Jays fans everywhere, but winning on the road is difficult and it was early in the season. That goes for the loss at Wichita; every team in the MVC is good for at least one road stinker each season against a team that they should beat.

No, Creighton has 3 losses that I feel extremely bad about, and 2 of them came at the hands of the Redbirds. I hate that we lost at home to Drake, but loss might have served a greater purpose: it was after that horrible effort that the Jays ripped off 11 straight wins. Still, it is a bad loss. But the 22-point loss in Normal back in January and this 24-point drubbing in the Arch Madness semifinals stick firmly into the claws of Bluejays everywhere.

Do the Jays deserve to be in the Big Dance? You can make a case either way. The computer numbers are good. Even with the loss in STL they are among the hottest teams in the nation. They win on the road at a higher percentage than most teams in the top 10 conferences. They beat New Mexico and Dayton at home and St. Joe’s on the road. They won the MVC title. But the losses to Illinois State stick out to me as daggers in the heart of a potential at-large bid. We weren’t competitive in either game, and unfortunately for CU the Redbirds are more akin to what potential opponents in the NCAA tournament would look and play like.

That doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not they’ll get in, but it has direct implications on whether they could do anything once they get to the dance. If they can’t figure out a way to beat teams like Illinois State, they’ll be making a mere cameo appearance in any postseason tournament in which they play. Poor execution trumps great expectations every time. Hopefully the Jays get a chance to revive those expectations on the national stage.

I guess if Booker’s shot went in, anything is possible.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Creighton 63, Wichita State 62

The Morning After History

What can I possibly type here?

I mean, the Jays GAVE that game to WSU. Sure, the Shox made some big plays down the stretch, but Dana Altman's strategy to seemingly go into Four Corners mode with 9 minutes left to play was about 6 minutes too early.

Not that in 15 years anyone will remember that, though. All they'll remember is Booker Woodfox.


We are at the Sheraton this weekend, in the shadow of the Scottrade Center, and we've of course run into a couple (read: hundreds) of Jays fans at our hotel. Two such Jays backers, a young husband and wife, brought along their 10-week old son, probably one of the youngest CU fans in St. Louis this weekend.

20 minutes after Booker's shot swished through and sent the Shox packing and the Jays advancing, I saw this young dad in the concourse. With bewilderment and sheer joy on our faces, I asked him how many years the game's ending took from his life.

After we both exchanged random answers, he put it the best way I can think of when trying to sum up Woodfox's shot (and his all-around play this year). While holding his baby, all dressed in blue, he said "One day we'll tell him he was at this game, and we'll try to share with him the legend of Booker Woodfox."


For awhile, the only thing that seemed legendary about the game was the inevitable choking away of a 22-point lead. I'm sending this from the hotel lobby so I won't get into the game's specifics, but one of the folks in our traveling party put it best. He said he watched CU play the best basketball and worst basketball of its season in the same 40 minutes, and I think that's a fair assessment.

But in March, "survive and advance" becomes every team's battle cry.

Thanks to the Legend of Booker Woodfox, that's what they did.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Let the (Arch) Madness Begin!

So, St. Louis is the second saddest city in the United States.

So says BusinessWeek. Mrs. Creighton Otter was perusing the ‘net a bit today and ran across a Top 10 list (is it really top? Shouldn’t it be more like worst?) that places the Gateway City right behind Portland, Oregon, and directly ahead of New Orleans and Detroit using a series of stats that make you feel sad even as you read the blubs.

Jays fans have experienced more joy and jubilation in STL than they have been depressed during the past decade. With Arch Madness championships in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007, Dana Altman and the rest of the Jays have staked Creighton’s claim as the Team To Beat seemingly year in and year out in the Valley’s postseason tournament.

And this year is probably no different. They are the hottest team in the MVC right now, having won 10 straight games (and 11 of their last 12) and catching the attention of the national sports media. Does that make the always-large target on their backs even bigger? They have the most difficult side of the bracket ahead of them, and they would be crazy to think that anything less than winning the tournament will safely get them into the NCAA tournament.

So, without further ado, this is how they’ll do it. If they don’t win the tournament I’ll be slightly depressed, at least for a little bit, but I’ll never feel like St. Louis is the saddest city in America. Regardless of the outcomes of the games, I’ve had some of the best times of my life in the shadow of the Arch.


Creighton Otter
Game 1: Indiana State over Drake
Game 2: Missouri State over Wichita State
Game 3: Northern Iowa over Indiana State
Game 4: Bradley over Southern Illinois
Game 5: Creighton over Missouri State
Game 6: Illinois State over Evansville
Game 7: Northern Iowa over Bradley
Game 8: Creighton over Illinois State
Game 9: Creighton over Northern Iowa

Game 1: Indiana State over Drake
Game 2: Missouri State over Wichita State
Game 3: Northern Iowa over Indiana State
Game 4: Bradley over Southern Illinois
Game 5: Creighton over Missouri State
Game 6: Evansville over Illinois State
Game 7: Northern Iowa over Bradley
Game 8: Creighton over Evansville
Game 9: Creighton over Northern Iowa

Dance Cam Guy
Game 1: Drake over Indiana State
Game 2: Wichita State over Missouri State
Game 3: Northern Iowa over Drake
Game 4: Bradley over Southern Illinois
Game 5: Creighton over Wichita State
Game 6: Illinois State over Evansville
Game 7: Bradley over Northern Iowa
Game 8: Creighton over Illinois State
Game 9: Creighton over Bradley

We'll be posting updates all weekend live from St. Louis. I know a lot of you will be at Arch Madness, too, but for those of you who can't make it I hope you'll turn to BluejayBasketball.blogspot first for all your MVC tournament information needs.

GO JAYS. Hang A Banner.

Tasty Knowledge Nuggets

Now that I’ve grabbed your attention (and either have your mouth watering with thoughts of delectable snacks of some sort or have grossed you out) with the title, it is time to offer some thanks and recognition to some of the hardest working members of the Creighton athletics department.

Players play the games. Coaches prepare them for the battles. But the unsung heroes of Jays games are Rob Anderson and the rest of the Sports Information staff at CU. Their responsibilities are extensive, their knowledge of the team and the college game Rainman-esque, and their efforts exhaustive and consistent.

If you want to riddle your mind with every possible statistic you can think of related to Creighton’s year in, year out quest for MVC championships, grab some of Rob’s game notes via some time. For obsessed fans like me, it is the ultimate resource for feeding my addiction to CU hoops.

So, in honor of Rob’s efforts and the work of the entire Sports Information staff, here are just a few of the tasty nuggets that can be found in the notes preceding this year’s Arch Madness tournament.


Can You Forecast This?
Even though the games are played indoors at Scottrade Center, the weather in the St. Louis metro area may play a bigger factor that you’d expect. According to historical weather data found on for St. Louis, consider the following information:
  • Creighton is 12-1 since 1999 when playing MVC Tournament games when the high temperature that day was 49 degrees or warmer.
  • Creighton is 8-1 since 1999 when playing MVC Tournament games when the high is 47 degrees or cooler.
  • Creighton is 0-2 since 1999 when playing MVC Tournament games and the high that day was exactly 48 degrees.
  • The forecast for this weekend is nothing short of brilliant. expects it to be 64 degrees on Friday, 62 degrees on Saturday, and 53 degrees on championship Sunday.

What A Win Friday Would Mean
With a win on Friday, Creighton would...

  • Improve to 26-6 on the season, and win its 11th straight game.
  • Win its 13th straight game in the MVC Tournament when playing as the No. 2 seed.
  • Improve to 21-4 in MVC Tournament action since 1999.
  • Reach the semifinals for the ninth time in the past 11 seasons.
  • Improve to 16-11 in quarterfinal round action of the MVC Tournament.
  • Improve to 36-17 at the MVC Tournament all-time, tops in wins and winning percentage (.679) in the event’s history.
  • Give the Valley’s No. 2 seed a quarterfinal round win for the 11th straight year.
  • Head coach Dana Altman would improve to 21-7 in MVC Tournament games, extending his league record for tournament victories.

Creighton owns a 35-17 all-time record in MVC Tournament games. Creighton’s 10 MVC Tournament titles are five more than any other school, while its .673 winning percentage in league tourney action is also tops. Creighton is 15-11 in the quarterfinals, 10- 5 in the semifinals and 10-1 in the championship games.

Creighton owns six league tournament titles in the last 10 years. On a national basis, the only schools that can claim this are Gonzaga (8), Winthrop (8), Duke (7) and Creighton (6). Creighton’s 10 Valley Tournament titles are twice as many as the next closest school, Southern Illinois (5).

Since the start of the 1998-99 season, Creighton owns 16-0 record on the first day of events they have played back-to-back games in. They are 14-2 during the second day of back-toback games, and 6-2 when playing on a third straight day.

Voted the preseason favorites in the MVC way back in October, Creighton lived up to those expectations this year with a regular-season title. Since 1985-86, the preseason poll has now accurately predicted the league’s regular-season champ 11 times out of 23 polls. In only nine of the previous 23 preseason polls was the preseason favorite the eventual Valley Tournament champion. However, the past three times that has happened, it’s been Creighton (2007, 2003, 1999). Only four previous times has the preseason favorite won both the regular-season and tournament titles (1988 Bradley; 1991 Creighton; 1997 Illinois State; 1998 Illinois State).

Creighton is one of just 12 teams in the top 52 of the RPI with at least 10 Division I wins away from home (thru 2/28). Joining Creighton on that list is powerhouses North Carolina, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Memphis, Xavier, Clemson, Florida State, Butler, Utah State and Gonzaga.

Creighton attracted 276,115 fans this season, a figure that is the most in the 102-year history of the MVC. The Jays are also on pace to set an MVC record in average attendance. Creighton is averaging 16,242 fans currently (10th nationally), just ahead of the 15,909 average from 2006-07.

Booker Woodfox has made 43-of-44 free-throw attempts away from home this season (97.7 percent), including 25-of-25 in MVC road games this year.

Creighton’s 10-game win streak is tied for third longest nationally.

Creighton currently has 25 wins, all against Division I opponents. According to Jerry Palm from, every team in the last 15 years with at least 25 Division I wins from a top-10 conference has made the NCAA Tournament. The MVC is currently the ninth ranked conference. Overall, only four teams have missed the NCAA’s with 25 or more Division I wins in the last 15 years...Robert Morris last year, Akron and Vermont in 2007 and Butler in 2002.

Random Valley Tournament Facts…

  • Creighton is the only Valley school that has not appeared in the play-in round since that format began in 1997.
  • Creighton has not gone consecutive seasons without winning a Valley Tournament title since 1997-98. CU has won titles in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007 in recent years.
  • Creighton is 7-1 in its last eight MVC Tournament games when playing an opponent with a better seed than the Bluejays.

Random Valley Tournament Facts (about possible quarterfinal opponents)…

  • Creighton has scored exactly 70 points in all five previous MVC Tournament meetings with Wichita State, winning four of those contests.
  • Five of the previous six Bluejay teams to beat Missouri State in Springfield went on to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and reach the NCAA Tournament that March. Creighton won in Springfield, 65-59, this year.

Creighton’s defense has been stellar in the second halves of its current 10-game win streak. The Jays have held opponents to 38.8 percent from the floor (109-281) after intermission and just 29.9 percent from three-point range (26-87) in those 10 triumphs.

In the past 10 games (all CU wins), Josh Dotzler has 40 assists, seven turnovers and 19 steals in 216 minutes. Despite being CU’s primary ballhandler, Dotzler owned just 18 turnovers in 18 MVC games this season, including 15 league games with zero or one miscue this winter. He ranked sixth nationally with a 3.00 assist/turnover ratio (now 3.12) through games of last Thursday.

Creighton has made four or more three-pointers in 64 consecutive games, which ranks eighth nationally.

The rebound differential between Creighton and its opponent has stood at 10 or larger in 16 of the 31 games to date. The Jays have won the boards by 10 or more five times (going 4-1), but lost on the glass by double-digits on 11 occasions (going 7-4). In the 15 games that the rebound discrepancy has been a single-digit, CU is 14-1. Creighton is 13-1 when winning the rebound battle this year, and 18-2 when they are -9 or better on the glass.

Creighton has shot 104-for-197 in the final seven minutes of regulation in its 25 wins this season, good for 52.8 percent. That figure includes Stinnett shooting 24-of-28 from 2-point range (85.7 percent), and the team shooting 34-of-81 (42.0 percent) from three-point range in that time range. On the other hand in the final seven minutes of its six losses, Creighton is 16-of-54 from the field (29.6 percent) and 5-of-26 from 3-point range (19.2 percent). Stinnett is 0-for-9 from the field in the last seven minutes of CU’s six losses this season.

Creighton has shot the ball well from the free throw line, moving up to ninth nationally with its 76.0 percent rate from the charity stripe. That’s even more impressive when you consider CU’s 525 free throw makes are also 10th nationally. Creighton and North Carolina are the only teams in the country to rank in the top-10 in both free-throw makes and free-throw percentage.

Booker Woodfox is 83-of-163 (50.9 percent) from three-point range this season, best nationally. For his career, he is 139-of-295, which computes to 47.1 percent, just ahead of the school-record figure achieved by noted marksman Kyle Korver. The only previous player in CU history to shoot better than 44.5 percent from three-point range in their career was two-time MVC Player of the Year Korver, who made 45.3 percent from downtown while hitting 371-of-819 from long-range.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Booker Woodfox Wins Player of the Year

Official Release from Missouri Valley Conference
OWH release by Steve Pivovar
Picture montage of Woodfox from


That the Missouri Valley Conference’s Player of the Year award is named for legend Larry Bird is quite a coincidence, considering the last two Creighton Bluejays to garner the award.

Like Kyle Korver before him (in both 2002 and 2003), Booker Woodfox knows no limits when shooting the basketball. And like Korver, Woodfox is by all accounts a consummate teammate and team-first student athlete.

The word "range" limits the lengths from which Woodfox can drill a 3;
Seriously, he's not even on the screen when he drops this bomb against St. Joe's.

But unlike Korver, who Jays fans felt grew up before their very eyes, and CU’s other POY winners Bob Harstad and Chad Gallagher, Woodfox transferred to the Hilltop. In the only bittersweet context of Woodfox’s award-winning efforts this season, Jays fans were only blessed by his abilities and attitude for two seasons.

Booker’s statistics speak for themselves, yet we’ve dedicated much of this blog the past two years to regurgitating the eye-opening numbers he has posted as a Jay. Those numbers are detailed in the few links above.

I know it is clichéd, but what I’ll remember most from Woodfox’s time at CU, and especially his POY season this year, is the way he always carried himself well on the court and the sheer effort and focus with which he plays the game. Oh, and he is pretty clutch, too (see below).

One of Woodfox’s most memorable shots, a game-winner vs. ORU

The other All-Valley awards were given out today, and some will come out tomorrow, but I thought Booker’s well-deserved POY award was worthy of a lunchtime post. I’m sure you’ll agree.

Now keep it up a little while longer, Booker.

The Others

Since 1999, the year Dana Altman’s regime at Creighton produced its first MVC tournament title, the Jays have played 24 games in St. Louis as part of Arch Madness. And in more than 60% of those games, Creighton’s leading scorer per game in the regular season led the Jays in the points column in the box score.

The names Rodney Buford, Ben Walker, Ryan Sears, Kyle Korver, and Nate Funk compose a venerable list of the most indispensable Bluejays to don the White and the Blue during Altman’s tenure on the Hilltop. Buford led the Jays in scoring during each of his four seasons. Korver and Funk each led the Jays in 3 of their years at CU. Walker and Sears seemingly split the scoring duties evenly during their four years together as Bluejays.

But who are the others? Who stepped up above and beyond their regular season statistics and displayed the determination and effort necessary to become X factors as the season started to wane and one bad game meant a team’s year could be finished?

Today we take a quick look at The Others; those whose play down the stretch in key games during some of the most memorable seasons under Altman’s watch helped the Jays cut down nets and hang banners.


Ben Walker, 1998-1999

As a sophomore, Walker and fellow guard Sears conceded the spotlight to one man, Buford, the senior who almost single handedly helped Altman pull Creighton out of a Rick Johnson-induced coma. Buford never won an MVC Player of the Year award, losing to Rico Hill during his junior season and Marcus Wilson as a senior. For Jays fans, though, the votes shouldn’t have been close. Buford was The One who quickly brought the Jays back to the NCAA tournament – and respectability – again.

But down the stretch of the season and in the MVC tournament, Buford would need some help. All tournament runs require multiple men to step up and make plays, even though they’re tired and their opponents are seeing them for the third time in a season. The stakes are great, the competition is fierce and familiar, and it takes just a couple of mistakes to end a season. Those characteristics were no match for Walker.

For the season he averaged just over 9 points a game, and with Buford shut down in the quarterfinals against Illinois State, Walker posted a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds). In the semifinals, Walker went for 23 points and pulled in another 5 boards. And in the Valley championship game, a win over Evansville (and Marcus Wilson … take that!), Walker added to Buford’s 20-plus point night with another double-double (18 points, 11 boards).

Then, two weeks later, Walker put up 16 points and 5 rebounds in an opening round upset of Louisville in the NCAA tournament and 15 points and 4 rebounds in a second round loss to Maryland. If you could Walker’s last game of the regular season, a feisty 14-point, 4-rebound effort against Wichita State, the sophomore averaged 16 points and more than 6 rebounds during the final 6 games of the 98-99 season.

Terrell Taylor, 2001-2002

The mercurial yet talented junior from Connecticut began his Creighton career the same season as Korver – early in their careers, it was evident they had the talent to be another 4-year, 1-2 punch for Altman as Walker and Sears had been before them. Korver was more consistent than Taylor, however, and his efforts more well-rounded both on and off the court. There was no questioning Taylor’s abilities, just his focus on doing what was needed to play for Altman and the Jays faithful.

In February 2002, a story came out in the local paper telling of a visit that Altman and Taylor had with Terrell’s mother. I don’t remember all the details, and I won’t say I do, but the gist of the resolution was this: Taylor could fall in line, or he could sit on the bench. So for the final few weeks of the season, at least, Taylor did more than fall in line; he took his teammates and CU fans on one of the wildest rides they’ve experienced.

It started on Ash Wednesday with 28 points at Drake, in a 95-91 road win in Des Moines. Then came double-digit point totals in 3 of the final 4 regular season games, as the Jays won a co-championship with Southern Illinois. And after scoring just 9 points in the quarterfinal round win in St. Louis, he poured in 19 points in 20 minutes of a semifinal win and 20 points in 26 minutes in the finals against SIU.

Those efforts were just a precursor, however, to the biggest day of his basketball career, and the most clear image of Creighton basketball for the general fan base of March Madness.

I never get sick of watching this. I'm sure Donovan does, though.

In what still remains the highlight of my 28 years of watching sports, Taylor hit 8 3-pointers, including the game-winner shown above, on his way to 28 points in 40 minutes of action in CU’s 83-82, double overtime victory over Florida in the NCAA tournament.

Forget that in his next outing, a virtual home game in the second round for Illinois in the United Center in Chicago, he scored just 10 points on 4-14 shooting. And forget, for a moment, that the March Madness of his effort against the Gators would be Bluejay fans’ lasting (and final) impression of him as a basketball player. While he didn’t finish his career at Creighton, he certainly left a legacy that, for at least one shining moment, is worth recalling year after year.

The last 10 games of his CU career saw him score 17.5 points per game and shoot 44% from 3-point range.

Larry House, 2002-2003

La Casa once stayed at my house in college; that’s another story, for another time. During his senior season, which coincided with Creighton’s 29-win campaign and season-long flirtation with a top 10 national ranking, House averaged 11 points per game as he admirably deflected at least a small amount of defensive attention teams were paying to Korver, the Valley’s Player of the Year in both 01-02 and 02-03.

House really kicked things into gear as he saw the final few games of his college career in front of him. He helped Altman, Red McManus, and the rest of the Bluejays past and present close the Civic Auditorium by scoring 28 points and grabbing 6 rebounds on Senior Night that March.

Then he scored 7 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in a 1-point win over Indiana State in the quarterfinals. He scored 12 points and pulled in 7 rebounds against Wichita State, in another 1-point tournament win. And in what arguably was the most fun game to be present for in my years of watching CU hoops, House (and his 20 points) brought the Salukis to their knees almost immediately in Creighton’s 80-56 championship game drubbing.

He even scored 11 points in The Game That Will Not Be Mentioned, which ended his career and Creighton’s magical season. His last 5 games as a Bluejay saw him score 16.7 ppg and average 5 rebounds a contest.

Jimmy Motz, 2004-2005

He is maybe the most unlikely of people on this list, just based on what his entire 04-05 season looked like under full inspection. Coming into the MVC tournament, Motz was averaging 5.9 ppg and was just one of a number of sub-double digit scorers Altman could bring off the bench at the forward position.

That was until Motz hit 75% of his field goals, including 71% from deep 3-point range, and helped Nate Funk and Johnny Mathies win Arch Madness and send the Jays back to the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus.

Motz hit 10 of his 14 3-pointers in St. Louis and averaged 12 points per game, more than double his season scoring average. The image of him pumping his fists after a dagger 3-pointer in the second half of the championship game against Missouri State might sound familiar: it graces the pregame Tunnel walk video for this season’s Bluejays home games.

Nick Porter, 2006-2007

From the moment Porter stepped on campus, albeit with a bum knee, it seemed all we heard about the beefy guard-forward was his ability to be the X Factor Altman was looking for. He had to sit out his first season with the Jays due to that knee, and then an injury to Funk and a late blossoming for Anthony Tolliver into an All-MVC player set the stage for all three men to share their senior seasons together.

Funk lost the Player of the Year award to Jamaal Tatum. Tolliver was a beast in the paint. And Porter was the third option, the 10.7 ppg player who could crash the boards and make free throws no matter the size and strength of who was pounding on him. And with just a few games left in his career, Porter turned in some of the most well-rounded efforts of his Creighton career.

On Senior Day, or the White Out Against Wichita, Porter put up 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists versus the Shockers. He didn’t have to take a lot of shots against Indiana State in the quarterfinals, as his 7 points and 6 rebounds came in just 24 minutes of play due to a 59-38 throttling of the Sycamores. But it was his last two games of that season’s Valley tournament that cemented his status as the X Factor Altman so desperately needed.

While Funk was busy dropping 33 points on a game but ultimately overpowered bunch of Missouri State Bears, Porter posted a double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds. And in the championship game win over #11 Southern Illinois, Porter beat the Salukis seemingly at their own strategy: his 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists each came under enormous physical and mental pressure, applied by the SIU defense and the weight of the situation. The Jays needed to win the tournament to get an NCAA bid, and to win the tournament they needed Porter to post a great game. He did, and they did.

He put up 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists against Nevada in Creighton’s overtime loss in the first round to Nevada in that year’s NCAA tournament, a noble final effort for a Bluejay who stepped up at the right time.


Who will be the Bluejay or Bluejays to step up this postseason? Who will help deflect the attention from Booker Woodfox and P’Allen Stinnett? This year’s team is full of players who can score, defend, and make plays for teammates: who will do it with the pressure at its highest level?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Creighton 74, Illinois State 70


The Creighton Bluejays are regular season champions of the Missouri Valley Conference.

I’ve never been able to write those words on this blog before. I started keeping this semi-regular report of Creighton basketball seasons when the 2004-2005 season tipped off, and this is Dana Altman’s first regular season title since the 2001-2002 season.

That both this and the previous titles were co-championships with Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, respectively, matters little right now. This blog has celebrated two Arch Madness titles and NCAA tournament trips and plenty of regular season and NIT wins worth writing a few hundred words about. But for the first time, we get to share our thoughts not about what a regular season title would mean but what it does mean.

And the fact is, five weeks ago I didn’t think this would be the season when we would be able to share those kinds of thoughts. I’m glad I was wrong.


We wanted to help stimulate the economy. That, and fill in gapping hole in our living room.

Following Christmas, Mrs. Creighton Otter and I took advantage of some of Warren Buffett’s generosity and picked up a new chair for our TV room. The space that had been chewed up by a perfectly decorated Christmas tree was begging for a permanent resident after said Xmas Tree hit the huge Tupperware container for the next 10 months.

The understated yet supremely comfortable corner chair needed some breaking in, so for the past few months I’ve written most of the entries in this blog while lounging in our latest addition to our furniture collection.

On the afternoon of January 24, though, no writing was taking place in the chair; just a lot of venting. My favorite in-laws in the world were in town that weekend to watch Drake visit the Qwest Center. The Jays had payback on their minds for the three losses the Bulldogs dealt to Creighton last season.

The particulars of that game were much like yesterday’s CU-Illinois State tilt; the 1:00 p.m. start, a little more than 17,100 people in the building, and a sunny yet bitterly cold day for Creighton hoops. However, the Jays stayed cold the entire game, shooting just 30% and letting a 6-point halftime lead dissipate into a 12-point loss. It remains Creighton’s most notable blemish on an otherwise solid season record. (One could argue that the loss at Wichita State is worse based solely on RPI figures, but that was on the road. I hate home losses more than anything.)

My family and I spent the hours immediately following that loss stewing back in the apartment living room, verbalizing our frustrations about anything and everything that seemingly was going wrong with this year’s Jays squad. At 5-4 in the conference at the halfway mark, it was time for a progress report. Needless to say, the grades wouldn’t have made a Creighton faculty member proud. I was busy again breaking in the new chair; this time, with decidedly negative emotion.

The conversation continued down the street, as we enjoyed a solid supper at the Brazenhead. As a few Guinness were poured, a few more frustrations foamed to the top of our conversation during the meal.

A 9-game win streak following two 2-point losses on the road in late November had allowed me to elevate my expectations that this team would be the one: the one to win a regular season title; the one to bring home another Arch Madness crown; the one to make a name for Creighton in the NCAA tournament. But as I stared at a baked potato on the plate, I figured those hopes were half-baked wishes now, at best. Sure, the Jays still had the team in the MVC best built for the tournament in St. Louis. But they couldn’t catch Northern Iowa atop the conference standings.

And then they did.


I’m the first to admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong about what this team had left in the tank for the second half of the MVC season. Wrong, too, was my assessment that we couldn’t catch Northern Iowa. However, I’m sure any of you would agree that it took some outside help for the last 5 weeks to go how they have.

The day after Creighton lost at home to Drake, UNI went to Springfield and took care of Missouri State on ESPNU, 78-69. That win put the Panthers 8-1 in MVC play, and they would go on to win their next three games. With an 11-1 conference record and all of the confidence in the world on their side, the Panthers played host on a Sunday afternoon to the Bluejays — a team that had won two home games and a roadie in Des Moines following the weekend of January 24-25 MVC play. We all know who won that afternoon.


Since that CU win in Cedar Falls, the Panthers have gone 3-3. Creighton hasn’t lost. And they sit tied for a conference title. After the loss to Drake, the Jays have won 10 straight games. The 10th, and most critical/scary/anticipated/fulfilling, win came yesterday at home against Illinois State.

The afternoon, a day to honor the three seniors on this CU squad, was anti-climatic to a degree. The Panthers played the last game of the night in the Valley yesterday, whereas CU and the Redbirds tipped off from a raucous Phone Booth in the early afternoon. It would have been great for the UNI game to be taking place at the same time, with 17,000-plus Jays fans cheering or booing not only what was happening inside the Q but in Cedar Falls, too.

Scoreboard watching aside, it had to be calming for Creighton to know that no matter what happened in the other Valley games, a win would give them (at least part of) the title. What transpired yesterday afternoon was just a really good college basketball game, one with championship implications and a championship-type atmosphere.

The lead changed sides seven times. The Jays narrowly led the Redbirds in paint points (28-24), second-chance points (12-9), fast break points (12-7), and bench points (19-16). But in a game that featured a lopsided true rebounding advantage for Illinois State (37-26) and 10 made 3-pointers for the visitors, it was Creighton’s defense that paved the way for a win and, in turn, a regular season championship.

The Jays are in the top 50 nationwide in steals per game (8.2) and in the top 20 in total steals. Yesterday Creighton swiped 11 steals (including 7 by CU starters, with Booker Woodfox grabbing a career-high 3 himself) and forced 17 Redbird turnovers. The Jays, on the other hand, protected the ball and coughed the ball up just 8 times.

In the game’s most telling stat, CU outscored Illinois State 24-6 off of turnovers. In what is quickly becoming a hallmark of Altman’s team this season, the Jays force 16.3 turnovers per game, which puts them in the top one-third of Division 1 teams in causing opponents’ miscues.

Booker Woodfox scored 20 points, but only hit 1 of 3 3-pointers. His dazzling array of pull-up jump shots, leaners in the lane, and 5 free throws pushed his per-game scoring average to 15.9 for the season, putting him second in the Valley in scoring behind Shy Ely’s 18.3 points per game.

But while the Redbirds were paying loads of attention to the senior from Lewisville, Texas, they couldn’t stop P’Allen Stinnett. He, too, scored 20 points, on 6-8 shooting. Most importantly, he kept attacking the basket. He shot 10 free throws (making 7), just the third time all year he has gone to the charity stripe 10 or more times in a game. That’s something he’ll need to continue to do next week if the Jays want to win Arch Madness.

He and Woodfox each played 27 minutes, by far the most court time for any Jays on the afternoon. The Redbirds, on the other hand, continue to employ pretty much 6 players. But that’s alright: the Illinois State players had plenty of time to rest following the game, hearing from the outside of their locker room the thank-you speeches and post-game celebration of the seniors’ (hopefully) last home game and a conference title share.


That Altman has been able to lead this team back from a 5-4 record while keeping his substitution strategies in place should not be lost on anyone. Many of the teams in this league seem to be stone-footed right now, tired from another brutal run through the Valley. Altman has 11 players averaging between 10 and 26 minutes of playing time per game. Everyone is getting a chance to be a difference maker, and that makes this team different than any other in the MVC.

So as I type this in our new chair, I can’t help but feel good about both the last 5 weeks and the next couple on tap for the Jays. They seemed poised to do what not a lot of us thought was possible back in late January. And they seem ready to do it their way.

This team, regardless of how long it took, looks broken in. And like our new chair, I’m really starting to feel comfortable about their chances to hang banners. They put one up with their win yesterday, and hopefully one week from now they’ll be hoisting another.
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