It was a tale of two halves as the Creighton Bluejays (2-0) overcame a slow start to defeat the University of Alabama-Birmingham (1-1), 77-60, Wednesday night at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Jays were fueled by their three scholarship seniors, Gregory Echinique, Grant Gibbs, and Josh Jones. The trio combined for 44 points and 23 rebounds on 16 for 22 shooting from the field. Creighton needed those three to step up on a night where All-American forward Doug McDermott found himself in first half foul trouble, and never could get going afterwards.
“Our seniors saved us,” said Bluejays head coach Greg McDermott. “Our three seniors and our fourth-year junior, Ethan [Wragge], willed us to win this game.”
Wragge, a redshirt junior from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, nailed four three-pointers in the victory.
UAB cluttered the paint and denied entry passes to keep the Jays from going inside. They were making Creighton beat them from the perimeter, and for the first 20 minutes it worked as they forced seven turnovers, while also limiting the Jays to 4 for 12 from beyond the arc.
“They did a really good job taking away Doug, and we didn’t take advantage of what they gave us,” said Gibbs. “We were taking some quick shots when we could have swung the ball around, and got some better opportunities.”
Offensively, the Blazers were very efficient, shooting 50% from the field, 40% from three-point territory, and 75% from the charity stripe. They also had 11 assists on 15 field goals as they led the 13th-ranked Bluejays 37-33 at halftime.
Whatever adjustments the Jays made at halftime didn’t work at first, as UAB used an 8-2 run in the opening 2:53 to take their largest lead of the game at 45-35. From there, it was mostly about Creighton’s seniors. It all started with a layup by Jones to cut the deficit to eight. Then a block by Echinique led to two free throws by Jones to cut UAB’s lead to six. A three by Jones 17 seconds later cut it to three, then another block by Echinique led to a run out by Gibbs who found Jones waiting for the game-tying three.
“That’s just part of being a senior. Coach Mac believes in me more than anyone in this program. He just lets me play, within the team and be myself, and I made plays tonight,” Jones said.
In a matter of minutes, Jones had gone on a personal 10-0 run to tie the game at 45-all with 14:39 to play. A quick timeout helped UAB regroup, and they took a 55-53 lead with 11:10 remaining on junior forward Jordan Swing’s three-point play.
That was where the game turned ugly for UAB as Creighton rattled off a 17-0 over the next 5:15 to take a 70-55 lead with just over five minutes remaining. And once again, it was Creighton’s three seniors leading the charge as the combined for 14 of those 17 points. The Blazers scored just five points over the final 11:10 as Creighton’s depth, pace, and improved defensive effort proved too much to overcome. They outscored UAB, 44-23 in the second half.
“Our pace wore into them and we were a little crisper offensively. We made better decisions, and those threes tend to fall after a couple ball screens, and some dribble penetration,” said Gibbs after the game. “Our effort was also better defensively. We ratcheted it up a little bit, took away some of those open looks, and made them work a little bit.”
The Jays will be back in action this Sunday at the CenturyLink Center to take on the visiting Presbyterian Blue Hose (0-2). Tip-off is set for 2:05 p.m.
Alabama-Birmingham / Creighton
Score: 60 / 77
FG/FGA/FG%: 24-63 (38.1%) / 27-53 (50.9%)
3FG/3FGA/3FG%: 8-20 (40%) / 10-27 (37%)
FT/FTA/FT%: 4-5 (80%) / 13-17 (76.5%)
Rebounding: 31 (Off: 8, Def: 23) / 37 (Off: 7, Def: 30)
Assists: 16 / 15
Turnovers: 9 / 10
Steals: 8 / 4
Blocks: 0 / 4
Scoring Leaders: I. Jones (16) / J. Jones (18)
Rebounding Leaders: Rucker (7) / Echinique (16)
Assists Leaders: Taylor (5) / Chatman, Gibbs (6)
Steals Leaders: I. Jones (3) / Wragge (2)
Blocks Leaders: None / Echinique (4)