The regular season concludes tomorrow with a team the Jays will see an awful lot of over the next week, the Northern Iowa Panthers, as the two teams will meet again in St. Louis next Friday afternoon. Fortunately, the Panther team that the Jays will play twice in the next six days is nothing like the team that beat them in Cedar Falls earlier this year.
After winning eight straight games to catapult themselves back into the thick of Valley race, their best player and senior leader, Lucas O’Rear, broke his ankle which ended his season. O’Rear was the consummate Panther from the McDermott/Jacobson Era — tough, blue collar, all hustle all the time. In addition to being one of their more consistent scorers and their leading rebounder, he set the tone for the other players with his style of play. To say his loss has been devastating would be accurate.
They’ve lost five of six games without O’Rear, and while you can certainly measure his loss statistically — they’ve been outrebounded in three of their last four games, and they shoot nearly ten more three-pointers a game since his injury — its the intangibles where his loss really shows up, his leadership in close games late and ability to make big plays. Its also shown up defensively, as the Panthers have given up 70 or more points in each of the six games O’Rear has been out, which is the first time since 2002-03 they’ve given up 70 or more in six straight. That’s even more remarkable when you consider in 162 games of the Ben Jacobson Era, the Panthers have given up 70 or more just 30 times.
They’re still a talented team, though. Kwadzo Ahelegbe leads them in scoring at 14.3 a game, and does a good job running their offense (though he’s been turnover prone at times, averaging 2.1 a game). Jake Koch averages 9.7 points a game, shoots 34% from behind the arc, and is the team’s leading rebounder in the absence of O’Rear with a 5.03 average. Johnny Moran averages 9.4 points and has made the most three pointers on the team, 56, shooting 36% from long range.
Anthony James has been the breakout star, as the sophomore who played sparingly on the Sweet 16 team a year ago has become their deadliest shooter and most explosive offensive weapon. He averages 12.7 points a game, but is shooting 41.7% from three-point range (40-96). He’s not yet the gutsy late-game shooter that Ali Farokhmenesh was for the Panthers last year, but watching James play, you get the feeling he’ll be there by the time he’s a senior.
Speaking of seniors, its Senior Day on the Hilltop for five Bluejay seniors who will be playing their final regular season games. In four years, they’ve gone 84-48 with two 20-win seasons, two NIT berths and one CIT appearance, but barring an Arch Madness title, they will also become the first group of four-year seniors to not make an NCAA Tournament appearance since the senior class of 1997, which was recruited by Rick Johnson. While the 20-win streak ended on their watch, the 10 conference wins streak is still alive and can be continued by winning Saturday. The 20 win plateau has become a watered down mark in recent years, with the larger schedule teams now play and the ability to gather nine or ten wins against creampuff opponents in November and December. But winning 10 conference games for 14 straight years? That’s really damn impressive.
As Danny O’Byrne of WBR and Bluejay Banter noted on Twitter, after beating the Jays on Wednesday, the Wichita State players wore “Crush Creighton” t-shirts to the press conference. Does that happen when Northern Iowa comes to town? Southern Illinois has had “I H8 CR8ON” shirts for years. Do they have “I H8 Drake” shirts? No, they do not. Creighton gets the other team’s best shot every time out, the crowds are bigger and rowdier than other games, and yet, they’ve won 10 or more games 14 straight years.
I could care less about the 20-win season streak, and didn’t shed much of a tear over that ending last year. The 10-conference win streak though? That’s a big deal. Lets hope that’s doesn’t end on these senior’s watch:
Casey Harriman, a fifth-year senior, had 336 points, 242 rebounds and 44 charges taken before undergoing season-ending labrum surgery on January 5th. Its those 44 charges that he’ll best be remembered for — the consummate tough-guy, he was known as “Hoss” and in a way, was a real throwback to the glory days of the Altman Era, when his teams were full of tough, blue collar players who outworked their opponents. Harriman would have played well in Greg McDermott’s system, and you wonder if his toughness could have made a difference in a few of the late-game collapses this team has suffered.
Kaleb Korver, the younger brother of MVC Hall of Famer Kyle Korver, has 389 points, 252 rebounds and 146 assists in his four year career. He is a career 38.9% shooter from three-point range, making 107 shots from long range. He was recognized on the MVC Scholar-Athlete Team as both a sophomore and junior, and has re-invented himself into a defensive specialist in his senior year, logging heavy minutes under new coach Greg McDermott.
Darryl Ashford transferred from Jacksonville Junior College, and in two seasons he’s played in 63 games, starting 34 times, and has 397 points, 209 rebounds and 39 blocked shots. A fellow JuCo player, Wayne Runnels came to Creighton from Northern Oklahoma-Enid. Runnels owns 236 points, 192 rebounds and 39 assists at Creighton while being a man without a position, playing frequently in the post where his 6’6″ frame was woefully undersized.
And finally, Kenny Lawson, who has had a curious career — his name is all over the Creighton record book, ranking third with 149 blocked shots, seventh with 715 rebounds and 22nd with 1,217 career points, yet he’s been a favorite whipping boy of message board posters and radio show callers. He was a second-team all-MVC pick a year ago, and was the Preseason Player of the Year before this season began.
The five seniors are the most to be honored on Senior Day (or Night) since 2001, when the Jays had six. That’s particularly noteworthy because this class originally had a sixth senior as well: P’Allen Stinnett. Incidentally, the six seniors on that 2001 team? Ben Walker, Ryan Sears, Alan Huss, Brett Angner, Livan Pyfrom, and Justin Haynes.
About the Shockers: UNI will be looking for its eighth 20-win season in the history of the program Saturday, and if they do so, they would hold the MVC’s longest current string of 20-win seasons – at three in a row … UNI has won 18 or more games in eight straight seasons. Prior to the 2003-04 season, UNI had won 18 or more games only six times in the history of its men’s basketball program … UNI enters Saturday’s game against Creighton having made at least one made three-pointer in 355 straight games. The last time UNI failed to make a 3-point basket came Feb. 3, 2000, vs. Southern Illinois in a 72-58 Panther victory in the UNI-Dome … UNI is a perfect 11-0 this season when outrebounding the opposition … UNI ranks No. 2 in the nation in turnovers per game (9.5), committing 10 or fewer turnovers 21 times in 30 games … Kwadzo Ahelegbe is the Missouri Valley Conference’s Player of the Week after averaging 25.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds and shooting 52.2 percent from the floor in a pair of games vs. Bradley and George Mason. In the two games, Ahelegbe shot 7-of-14 (50 percent) from 3-point land and 19-of-22 (86.4 percent) from the free throw line … UNI entered the week ranked No. 17 in the nation in free throw percentage at 75.6 percent, and they have six players shooting 72 percent or better from the foul line – led by sophomore Jake Koch at 82.8 percent.
One Big Paragraph with Lots O’Dots™: Creighton is 14-1 in the last 15 years in its final home game of the regular-season, including a 1-0 mark vs. Northern Iowa. That meeting came in 1998, when the Bluejays emerged with a 74-62 win at the Omaha Civic Auditorium … CU’s last loss in a regular-season home finale came on a senior-less team in 2002 to Drake. The Jays have won 14 straight Senior Day’s when they have at least one senior dating to a 1994-95 setback vs. Southern Illinois … Saturday’s meeting features seven of the last nine champions of the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, and nine of the last 12 titlists. Creighton has won crowns in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007, while UNI won tournament titles in 2004, 2009 and 2010.
The Last Time They Played: Kwadzo Ahelegbe scored 14 of the first 16 points for the Panthers, making five of his first six shots, and UNI jumped out to a 31-26 lead at the half in Cedar Falls earlier this year. UNI used a 15-7 run to take the lead, with baskets from Anthony Moran and a dunk from Anthony James (8:37 in the half) that made the McLeod Center explode. Creighton’s field goal by Wayne Runnels with 11:45 left in the half was the last field goal until the 3:37 mark for the Jays, when Young knocked down a three. A 9-2 run to open the second half put the Jays ahead, but it was short lived: Ahelegbe assisted on two three pointers, the first by Chip Rank with 16:13 to play and the second by Kervin Dunham at the 15:26 mark, then made two, old-fashioned three point plays at 13:08 and 9:17 in the game to put the Panthers up for the night.
The Series: Creighton leads the all-time series with Northern Iowa by a 26-15 count, including a 16-4 mark in Omaha. UNI has won each of its last two games in Omaha, matching its win total from its first 18 trips to town, and has won three straight in the series. They’ve never won four straight against Creighton.
Greg McDermott is 1-4 against UNI and 1-4 against Ben Jacobson.
Gratuitous Linkage: On the list of “Things that never be remade”, Thundercats has to be close to the top, right? Awesome show back in the day, but like He-Man, it should have been to our glorious memories, because like so many things, its not nearly as awesome when you revisit it. So of course, The New Thundercats is coming to Cartoon Network later this year. Of course. Because network boardrooms are now staffed by people my age who think, “Oh yeah, I remember Thundercats! I loved my Lion-O action figure! Green light the remake!” Grr. So with that, here’s ten questions about the new series.
Out of Context Simpsons quote:
Homer – “I hate getting stitches in my eye. Stupid crows.”
Dr. Julius Hibbert – “Now, don’t be mad at the crows, Homer. They weren’t trying to blind you, they were just trying to drink your sweet, sweet eye juices.”
This Date in Creighton Hoops History: In the aforementioned 2001 Senior Night game where six seniors were honored, Creighton destroyed Southwest Missouri State 72-48, a game played on February 26, 2001. Ben Walker, playing in his final home game as a Bluejay, scored 13 points and Livan Pyfrom had 12 points and eight rebounds for Creighton, completing a perfect 14-0 home record for the season.
Completely Random, Totally Rad Music Video of the Day: Is it a Cold War spy thriller? Is it a strange indie film about dubious ruffians from an unnamed nation? Nope, its the video for “Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart which is 200% funnier now than it was in 1985.
The Bottom Line: The 20-win streak ended on the watch of these seniors, but the much more important 10-conference win streak will continue.
Jays 73, Panthers 65