‘Really bad half’ puts Bluejays in 19-point hole at Butler they can’t overcome

‘Really bad half’ puts Bluejays in 19-point hole at Butler they can’t overcome
Butler's Joey Brunk catches a pass while being defended by Creighton's Mitch Ballock and Martin Krampelj. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

INDIANAPOLIS — Butler brought energy and urgency to a game it needed to win, and Creighton wasn’t able to match it.

The Bulldogs built a 19-point lead in the first half — using an 11-0 run to jump in front 19-7 before stretching their advantage to 48-29 with a 9-2 surge in the final three minutes before halftime. They snapped a two-game losing streak while cruising to an 84-69 victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday.

The Bluejays had hoped to build momentum off their recent victories, particularly the strong all-around showing at Providence on Monday. But they had their worst 3-point shooting performance of the year Saturday, committed too many turnovers and let a reeling opponent get comfortable.

“We just played a really bad half,” coach Greg McDermott said in a postgame radio interview. “We played three really good halves the last couple games. Unfortunately, we had a really bad one to start this game.”

And it made all the difference.

Butler set the tone right away with its activity and effort on defense. Each time the Jays looked to drive, an extra defender seemed to be there, darting over to swipe the ball away. Butler had nine steals in the first half.

McDermott said afterward that CU lacked ball and player movement early in possessions, which allowed the Bulldogs to maintain their defensive structure and help more effectively. By the time Creighton made the adjustment, the deficit was too great.

The Jays’ miscues led to 20 Bulldog points in the first half, helping boost an offense that has relied heavily on the 3-point shot. Butler ended up with 11 3s Saturday, but it also held a 40-28 edge in points in the paint.

“They had a lot of fast-break points off of our turnovers, and that hurt us at the beginning,” junior guard Davion Mintz said on the postgame radio show. “If we clean some of that up and try to cut that in half, it could have been a much closer game.”

The Jays (10-5, 1-1) made a couple of second-half runs once they settled in.

They scored the first 11 points after halftime to cut the deficit to 48-40. After Butler (10-5, 1-1) extended its lead again, CU closed to 72-60 with five minutes left.

But the Bulldogs’ first-half performance proved to be too much for Creighton to overcome.

And, unfortunately for the Jays, they have experienced that before.

CU was overwhelmed in poor first halves at Nebraska and Oklahoma during nonconference play. It won at Providence on Monday, but its defense helped seize control in a 79-68 victory.

The Jays struggled to get stops Saturday. Butler shot 50.8 percent from the floor with only nine turnovers.

Creighton had no answer for junior Kamar Baldwin, who scored a season-high 28 points.

CU couldn’t keep up. The nation’s fourth-best 3-point shooting team went 7 of 27 (25.9 percent) from behind the arc. Its top scorer, sophomore Ty-Shon Alexander, matched his season low with nine points.

The scoring issues were especially costly early, too.

Creighton managed seven points the first nine minutes, going 3 of 13 from the field and committing four turnovers.

“Had we been able to start the game like we started the second half, I think maybe some doubt starts to creep into their mind about what they’ve been dealing with,” McDermott said. “But instead the opposite happened.

“I think some of the mistakes we made allowed them to get some easy baskets. And now they get their mojo back and swagger back a little bit, and they’re playing the way they usually play in this building.”

Martin Krampelj finished with 16 points for Creighton, which returns to action Wednesday. It hosts No. 16 Marquette in its Big East home opener.

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