As the energized Memphis team bounced to its bench and the enraged home crowd directed boos toward the referees, Creighton’s players huddled to remind themselves how to stand their ground through the chaos.
It’s exactly what the Bluejays spent the previous two days preparing to face.
The Tigers suddenly had blitzed their way back into the game, erasing a 17-point deficit in a matter of minutes. They pressed and trapped and swarmed — from end-line to end-line, after makes and after misses. A couple whistles went their way, too, fueling a frenetic atmosphere that Memphis had intended to create and that Creighton hadn’t often handled well this year.
But No. 2 seed Creighton found its footing at just the right time, holding on for a 79-67 win in a wild NIT second round showdown before a crowd of 7,031 Friday night at the CHI Health Center.
“I think in January, we would have lost a game like that just because we were young and the cookie would have crumbled,” CU sophomore Mitch Ballock said. “We bought in and came together. We just kind of handled it.”
The message never really changed.
Slow down with the ball. But move quickly without it. Keep the floor spaced. Don’t panic.
Coach Greg McDermott said there was a point where too many guys were running to the ball against the press. And there were other times where the ball handler just tried to make too many moves as the defense converged. Creighton committed seven turnovers during a nine-possession span — including five in a row.
The 17-point lead had been cut to 54-52 with 10 minutes left. And Memphis (22-14) had the ball.
But the Bluejays didn’t implode. Mostly, they just took a deep breath.
“When a team is desperate like that, you need to slow yourself down a little,” McDermott said. “To their credit, they got us sped up. Forced us into some mistakes. But I’m proud of how the guys responded.”
After the Tigers cut Creighton’s lead to two, Creighton scored on its next six possessions.
Then came a layup from senior Connor Cashaw, a bucket by freshman Christain Bishop and a putback tip-in by Ballock — that surge made it 70-56 with four minutes left.
CU held on from there. Memphis also may have run out of gas, according to its coach.
“When we changed the tempo, it went into our favor really quickly,” first-year Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “But we made so many mental mistakes.”
The Jays (20-14) seemed to be locked in from the start.
Junior Martin Krampelj and freshman Marcus Zegarowski both dove to the floor for a loose ball on the game’s first possession, helping to set the tone. CU did fall behind 27-22, but it ended the first half with an 18-3 run.
And even though Memphis came storming back, it never did retake the lead.
Creighton’s guys were encouraged about that afterward.
How they battled. How they handled adversity — tough calls and mid-game foul trouble. How they managed to stay composed.
Another tough test awaits CU. The players understand that. Creighton will either host No. 4 seed Nebraska or travel to face No. 1 seed TCU for the right to advance to the NIT semifinals.
But the Jays appear to be welcoming that next test. Even though they fell short of the NCAA tournament, they’ve expressed that there’s something to be gained from earning additional reps this month.
Zegarowski walked with his head coach to the post-game press conference and told McDermott that Friday’s game will be good for this team going forward. McDermott agreed.
“We were playing a very athletic, senior-dominated team — and this is what they do. That’s how they beat teams,” McDermott said. “We were able to handle it, get ourselves back together and have a run to end the game.”
All five of Creighton’s starters finished in double figures for the second straight game. Before this week, that hadn’t happened since Dec. 31, 2017. … Freshman Christian Bishop finished with a career-best 10 rebounds. He added eight points off the bench. … Senior Connor Cashaw’s second-half dunk was the first of his college career. McDermott said Cashaw provided the team with a calming presence against Memphis press as well. … CU reached the 20-win mark for the 19th time in the last 21 seasons.
Former Creighton coach Dana Altman, Oregon advance to second round of NCAA tournament
The Associated Press
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Oregon was stumbling toward the end of a disappointing season until a strong turnaround led the Ducks to the Pac-12 title and an NCAA tournament bid.
Oregon is not looking to slow down any time soon.
Payton Pritchard scored 19 points, Kenny Wooten protected the rim with four blocks and 12th-seeded Oregon extended its surprising March run by beating No. 5 seed Wisconsin 72-54 Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“It showed everybody today, it wasn’t a fluke,” Pritchard said. “We’re here to play. We’re here to win it.”
The Ducks (24-12) won four games in four days last week just to make the NCAAs, then followed it with an impressive victory over a higher-seeded opponent. Oregon advanced to play No. 13 seed UC Irvine (31-5) on Sunday in the second round of the South Region.
Louis King added 17 points, Paul White scored all 14 points of his points in the second half and Wooten had nine points, six rebounds and the tone-setting blocks to give the Ducks their ninth straight win.
“To see them come like this and have so much fun, that’s why we coach, just to see guys get together and have fun and play their tails off,” said coach Dana Altman, a Nebraska native and former Creighton coach. “That’s what they’re doing right now.”
Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson each scored 14 points to lead the Badgers (23-11).
The game was tied early in the second half when the Ducks used their athleticism to take over. Wooten scored on back-to-back dunks and White followed with a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 42-35.
White then blocked a shot by Happ on one end and converted on an impressive alley-oop from Pritchard on the other to make it 46-37 with 12:31 to play.
The Badgers tried to cut into that deficit, but King made a 3-pointer and two free throws to build the lead to 10 points with less than five minutes to play. Wooten then put the exclamation point on the victory with two blocks on one trip before Pritchard’s layup made it 59-47. The rout was on.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard lamented a poor seven-minute stretch for the Badgers but said he was proud of his squad for making the tournament a year after missing the field.
“It doesn’t tarnish,” he said. “It stings for a while, but it doesn’t tarnish what this group accomplished to get to this point.”