I don’t know about everyone else, but this holiday season has been the most interesting in years due to the weather. We were weather watching all week since we needed to leave the Big O to see family out west. We found a window on Thursday where we were able to get out of town. Plowed through a few snow drifts as we got to our destination, but then spent the rest of Thursday and all day Friday driving through blizzard conditions to get to different family gatherings and the such. In reality Saturday and Sunday wasn’t a whole lot better as the weather loved to play with our plans. Nonetheless we came back to Omaha a day later than we expected, but all in all it was a good trip.
Why do I drivel all of that useless information your way? Well, after Creighton’s 60-52 loss tonight to MVC favorite Northern Iowa, it reminded me of my holidays and the weather–Inconsistent and unpredictable. I had really high expectations coming into the game tonight. I expected a pumped up crowd, a jazzed Creighton team and a fresh new start that has been talked about in the newspaper the last few days. Instead I saw a late arriving crowd (which I will never understand in this city with a home game worth being at), the players loose putting on a dunk exhibition during shootaround, and an absolutely cold start to the game.
The Jays at one point were 1-16 from the field to start the first 12 minutes of the game and they were lucky Northern Iowa wasn’t hitting on all cylinders themselves or it would have been blowout city. Creighton ended up with 24% shooting for the first half but were within seven points. The second half was a different story for the first 12 minutes as Creighton recovered from being down and actually took a 4 point lead. But Northern Iowa then threw up a zone defense and as it has baffled the Jays down the stretch of their other losses where they held the lead, it baffled them again and it was difficult to get the shots they wanted.
In what has been a season of moral victories, the bright spot in tonight’s game was Cavel Witter. After sitting on the bench for the Savannah St. game, the Senior has been playing his best basketball since his sophomore season. Witter scored 8 straight points during a late first half rally and then also hit some big shots during the second half to help get Creighton to a lead and to keep them in the game with 6-of-10 shooting and 5-of-6 from three. He was also taking the ball hard on the dribble and drawing fouls from Panther defenders. He looked as though he was going to have a night similar to his 40+ performance against Bradley two season’s ago. Since the Savannah St. game, Witter has shot 13-of-20 from the field and 9-of-12 from three. The other nice stat, only 3 turnovers, with two coming in only 5 minutes of play against New Mexico. So 35 minutes with only 1 turnover. As much grief as some fans have given Cavel, he is a good thing going for the Bluejays right now.
But tonight’s loss wasn’t so much of bad shooting from the field as it was missed opportunities at the free throw line. As has been the issue this season, Creighton only shot 11-of-18 from the free throw line (61.1%) and a few other missed FT opportunities because of missed front ends of 1-and-1 situations. Northern Iowa was 19-21. That there is the margin of victory for the Panthers. Creighton is now shooting under 70% from the line for the season which is very uncharacteristic of a Creighton team. Over the past three seasons, Creighton has shot 75%, 72% and 75%.
Since we are talking about Free Throw shooting, there are players not getting to the line this season like they did last season. Throw around these stats for a minute:
- Last season, P’Allen Stinnett got to the free throw line 4.11 times a game. This season he gets to the line only 2.25 times a game.
- Last season, Justin Carter got to the free throw line 3.51 times a game. This season he gets to the line 2.33 times a game.
- Last season, Cavel Witter got to the free throw line 2.94 times a game. This season he gets to the line 1.81 times a game.
- The only player this season to get to the line more than 2.5 times a game is Kenny Lawson. Which is likely because of the low post play and the fouling that occurs.
So the question is this? Is it the way the offense runs that keeps players from getting to the line or are the players shying away from taking it hard to the hoop? I know that this season, P’Allen Stinnett is trying to let the game come to him and to not try and take over the game, etc…. But I sort of miss him trying to make plays to get to the hoop. Did the knee surgery over the summer cause him to lose a step? Did he lose his confidence driving too the hoop? With Justin Carter’s knee injury, has that kept him from driving hard to the hoop for fear of injury again? People have called this team soft and with the statistics staring me in the face that they are not getting to the free throw line like they have in the past, I get left with the question of whether it is due to the limits of the offense, or is the confidence gone to drive to the hoop? I saw some Nate Funk and Nick Porter in Cavel Witter tonight. I saw it some in Antoine Young as well. But I guess it also depends on if the team is able to then make the free throw shots when needed. There needs to be someone that wants the ball down the stretch. There are also needs to be someone confident enough to be that player as well.
So now it is a quick turn around with a two game road trip to Evansville and Indiana St. on Friday and Sunday. It doesn’t get any easier and both of these road games are necessary to win to build confidence back up and to keep going. There are still 18 games left in the regular season. It is definitely not over even though some people think that it is. Right now it is one game. Overall work doesn’t matter anymore. It is the drive to get better and to continue to strive one game at a time. That is how I will have to look at it from here on out.