Not pretty, but Jays extend winning streak over DePaul with hard-fought victory

Not pretty, but Jays extend winning streak over DePaul with hard-fought victory
Creighton guard Marcus Foster reacts to a dunk against DePaul. Foster finished with 29 points on 19 shots. (The Associated Press)

Marcus Foster wasn’t going to miss for a third time. No way.

The thought never crossed his mind.

Creighton’s go-to scorer had already been blocked on a drive to the rack — he wanted a foul call but didn’t get it. He’d clanged a fadeaway jumper off the rim, too. But the Jays, trailing by two points with just seconds remaining, were battling and scrapping, so they hustled their way to three offensive rebounds in that final minute. Foster didn’t squander the chance.

He maneuvered away from a ball screen, stopped and buried a pullup 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, the game-winner in a 76-75 Creighton victory at DePaul Wednesday night.

It was yet another clutch bucket in a season full of momentous plays for the ever-fearless shooting guard, who is producing quite the epilogue during the second of two years at Creighton after starting his career at Kansas State. The shot gave him his 2,000th career point.

“Even though I missed those last two, I just tried to stay confident and make that last one,” Foster said. “And you know, how my game is, I just think every shot is going in. And that last one went in for me.”

DePaul did have one final chance with 10 seconds left, but junior Max Strus was stripped on the perimeter. The clock ran out, allowing Creighton (18-6, 8-4 Big East) to celebrate its seventh straight victory over the Blue Demons.

CU had won the teams’ other six matchups by an average of 18.8 points, though. Wednesday’s battle had a much different feel.

The Jays struggled all night to slow DePaul, unable to consistently battle in one-on-one situations with senior center Marin Maric and unable to recover fast enough when they forced the ball out of his hands. Maric had 23 points, including a go-ahead bucket with 63 seconds left.

Creighton wasn’t as sharp as usual, either. It turned the ball over 10 times in the first half. CU entered the night ranked 10th nationally in fouls per game (15.2), but it was whistled for 19 Wednesday. DePaul pulled down 12 offensive rebounds (one off a season high for a Creighton opponent).

“We were obviously very fortunate (to win) — maybe lucky,” coach Greg McDermott said. “I thought DePaul just played a great game.”

The Blue Demons (9-14, 2-9) led by as many as 10 points in the first half and held a 36-31 advantage at halftime. Even after a quick surge put the Jays in front early in the second half, DePaul used a 6-0 spurt to take a 53-48 lead with 12 minutes left.

But CU’s veterans responded.

Junior Khyri Thomas stole a pass and converted a runout layup. Foster hit two contested 3-pointers. Then senior Tyler Clement, who logged more minutes (16) on Wednesday than in any other Big East game this year, twice found open space. He knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers.

Layups for senior Manny Suarez and freshman Mitch Ballock pushed CU’s lead to 62-59. The Jays didn’t miss a shot on eight straight possessions.

“We were just working on getting (the ball) swung side to side,” Clement said. “When we get stagnant sometimes, it’s because the ball sticks. … I was just trying to keep it moving. We did pretty well in the second half.”

But they couldn’t clinch it until the end.

DePaul junior Eli Cain made a 3-pointer with 1:43 left to tied the game at 73-73. Maric put the Blue Demons ahead the next time down.

Clement missed a 3. Then Foster twice failed to convert. He delivered the third time, though.

Foster said he spoke with McDermott during the offseason about being more efficient in late-game situations. He made the decisive 3-pointer against Xavier in the Big East tournament last season, but there were other situations where he thought he could have been better for CU.

Now Foster has sealed nonconference wins over Northwestern and Nebraska with clutch 3-pointers late. He had a big jumper with two minutes left in the win at St. John’s on Jan. 23. He made key free throws to close out CU’s victory over Georgetown four days later.

None, though, felt as uplifting for Creighton as his shot Wednesday night.

The Jays are still adjusting after the season-ending injury to Martin Krampelj. They’re in position to make the NCAA tournament — but they said this week they wanted to avoid adding any blemishes to their postseason résumé. A loss to DePaul (with an RPI outside of the top 150) would have stained their profile.

Foster made sure it didn’t happen.

“It means a lot to me to be able to come through,” Foster said. “Talking to Coach Mac in the offseason, that was something I struggled with. Just being there for my team down the stretch, making smart decisions. … But like I did (Wednesday), you just take the easy ones. Don’t have to force it.”

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