We walked four blocks from the bar to the arena before the game last night. As the cold wind tore through our coats, hats and gloves, my buddy yelled to me, “Dude, its freaking cold out here!” Maybe its the Minnesota blood in me, but I didn’t think it was that bad. “Nah, its not THAT cold,” I replied.
Because of the cold, or perhaps in spite of it in my case, we took a shortcut through the convention center. Unbeknownst to us, there was a youth religious convention going on, featuring tables with brochures about dinosaurs and creationism and many other things I did not stop to peruse. One of the more enthusiastic high schoolers in attendance handed my buddy and I each a pamphlet disguised as fake money. Now, one of my rules is never to turn down free money, fake or not, so of course I took it. And while I couldn’t spend this money, it didn’t disappoint: a Trillion Dollar Bill with Abe Lincoln’s face on the front, and an essay about all the ways I might go to hell on the back. But that was nowhere near as epic as the one my friend received: a Million Dollar Bill with Dangerous-Era Michael Jackson’s face on the front, and a similar essay on the back.
Wait…Michael Jackson?!? “Wow, that’s cold!” my friend exclaimed. “Coldblooded like Rick James?” I pondered. “Cold as Ice like Foreigner?” I wondered out loud. “Or cold as in why are they using Dead Jacko to promote their beliefs?” We determined that putting Jacko on there WAS kinda cold, in a different meaning of the word, but not THAT cold.
After waiting in a beer line that seemed like it would never move, we secured what we hoped would be a couple of ice cold brews. The first sip revealed a beer that was pretty cold, but not what we’d bargained for: the gas line at the stand was low, and the beer was not being properly cooled! Ah well, kinda-cold-ones are better than no-ones, so we took them and made our way to our seats.
Then the game started, and Creighton missed 15 of their first 16 shots en route to 2-20 shooting. That? THAT is cold.
One of our readers commented in yesterday’s Primer that “Creighton will have to be red hot and the Panthers need to be stone cold if they expect to win this game. There will have to be advantages for Creighton in TOs, rebounds and free thows, everything.” That reader, along with every Jays fan, would have been thrilled, nay, exuberant with the knowledge UNI would shoot 31% from the floor in the first half. Given that scenario, most fans would have figured on one of two things: Creighton unexpectedly blowing UNI out, or Creighton taking a nice lead before blowing it late, again.
Unfortunately, Creighton was anything but red hot. They shot just 24% in the first half, and that number is deceiving because they made four of their final five shots after making just two of their first 20.
The teams both heated up in the second half, but finished with nearly identical percentages: UNI was 18-51 (35.3%), Creighton was 17-50 (34%). Every other category that OldGold pointed to in his comment went UNI’s way: the Panthers won the turnover battle 10-8, the rebound battle 38-31, and especially at the free throw line. In fact, despite everything else the Jays did poorly (or didn’t do at all) in this game, if they make their free throws maybe this game ends differently. UNI was 19-21, Creighton was 11-18, for an eight point differential. Hey, what do you know, UNI won by…eight points!
Walking out last night, I overheard someone grumble that the Panthers weren’t that impressive, which made me roll my eyes. Sure, UNI is not the most talented collection of players in the league. But they play solid defense, they rebound, they have good guard play, they dictate tempo, and they do all of the little things to win games. They’re a good TEAM. As I wrote yesterday, saying they’re not impressive reminds me of fans of other teams who used to say that about Creighton: “We’re way more athletic and have more talent, we should destroy that team!” Please stop saying that.
That they play solid defense, rebound and dictate tempo should be fairly self-explanatory. Even when Creighton was making shots last night, the game was being played at UNI’s pace: slow, deliberate, half-court.
That they have good guard play can be summed up by their guards adjusting their game-plan during the contest. When Kwadzo Ahelegbe missed 10 of his first 11 shots, he simply stopped shooting jumpers and began taking it to the rack. His fellow guards followed his lead. By doing so, they got several baskets from five-feet and in, and drew a ton of fouls. As a team, they took (and made) three free-throws in the first half. In the second half, they took 18 free-throws, making 16. That adjustment made a big difference in the game.
What about those “little things” I mentioned? Two plays summed up what I’m talking about.
One, the coast-to-coast drive from Lucas O’Rear where a backup center took the ball the length of the court, uncontested, and made a layup without so much as a defender laying a hand on him. If there’s an explanation for that beyond something you might hear a whack-job on one of those alien-chaser shows on Discovery Channel say, I’d like to hear it. Ridiculous.
Two, late in the second half UNI missed a three-pointer and the ball caromed into an area with no players around. A Creighton player who shall remain nameless jogged over, content to let it go out of bounds knowing it would be Jays ball. But a UNI player ran full-steam, dove through the air with no regard for his body or his health, got to the ball in an attempt to save it, and threw it off the Creighton player who was standing watching all of this. Its not necessarily a knock on the Jays player: 9 times out of 10, a player in that situation lets that ball go and no one thinks twice about it. The difference is Northern Iowa wasn’t content to let a possession get away without exerting extra effort to try to prevent a turnover.
Little things. Good luck finding that play in the boxscore, but its plays like that which explain why the Panthers are the best TEAM is the league, while the Jays are not.
And so the re-booted season begins much as the original did: with a tough loss slipping away at the end, and an 0-1 record. The Jays now go on a two-game road trip through Indiana to Terre Haute and Evansville, hoping to avoid an 0-3 start before Drake comes to town next week.