For the seventh time in the last fifteen years, Creighton and Missouri State meet for a third time in the same season. This time, the third matchup comes in the semifinal of the CIT Tournament, which sent the Jays on the road due to their lower RPI; less clear is why they drew a rematch with the Bears before the title game, even after White & Blue Review’s Paul Liberty spoke to tourney chairman Riley Wallace on Tuesday:
“Personally, I would have liked to see these teams meet in the final, as it would most likely draw a large crowd, but Creighton would still have to travel down to Springfield because of their seeding. Now, you have two teams that will draw a good crowd due to their conference affiliation, and any of the four teams remaining have the ability to draw a good crowd for the championship.” -Riley Wallace
And so it is that Creighton hits the road in search of just their third true road win of the year, to a venue where they were utterly thrashed on February 6, losing 70-52. The Bears’ Will Creekmore started the game off with a dunk on the opening tip, and the ugly first play was an omen for what was to come as they jumped ahead 25-11 midway through the first half. Creighton was beaten in nearly every category during the first half, shooting just 38.5% from the field (10-26), 12.5% from three-point range (1-8) and 50% from the line (3-6). Meanwhile, Missouri State shot 46.7% from the floor (14-30), 30% from three-point range (3-10) and hit 4-of-6 at the line (66.7%). The Bears also outrebounded CU 20-14 and forced eight Bluejay turnovers.
The second half wasn’t much better. A 17-0 run by Missouri State after the under-16 timeout, a stretch that saw the Jays go scoreless for over seven minutes, pushed the lead out to 58-30. It was one of the ugliest games in recent memory, and as Otter wrote afterwards, a big reason was that the Bears scored a ridiculous 42 of their 70 points in the paint. Kenny Lawson was thoroughly dominated, playing one of the worst games of his career despite scoring 15 points.
The matchup in Omaha is difficult to take much away from now. It was P’Allen Stinnett’s final game before his suspension, and for better or worse, the Jays are a very different team without P than they were with him. For whatever its worth, though, the Jays won 76-72 in a game featuring 14 second half lead changes, with Creighton making its final 19 free throw attempts to win the back-and-forth game. Creighton trailed by one before Kenny Lawson Jr. dunked the Jays into the lead for good with 57.9 seconds left. MSU’s Adam Leonard would air ball a three-pointer and CU’s Darryl Ashford would make 4-of-4 free throws and Cavel Witter a pair at the line to ice the victory.
The stats from the two previous matchups are pretty heavily skewed by the blowout in Springfield. Nafis Ricks has averaged 13.5 points per game versus the Jays this year. Also in double-figures vs. Creighton this season have been Will Creekmore (12.5 ppg., 78.6 FG%), Jermaine Mallett (11.0) and Kyle Weems (10.5). Adam Leonard, the MVC Newcomer of the Year, was held to 11 total points. MSU has shot 46 percent from the floor overall, 27.3 percent from three-point range (9-33) and owns a +9.0 rebound advantage against CU this year.
Meanwhile, Creighton has been led offensively by Kenny Lawson Jr. in both games vs. Missouri State this year, making 59.1 percent of his 22 field goal attempts. Creighton has shot 42.0 percent from the field overall, but just 8-of-36 from three-point range (22.2 percent). However, Lawson was beaten badly on defense, particularly in the game in Springfield, negating much of his offensive value.
So there’s two ways to look at this. One, the Jays certainly have to be thirsty to avenge that earlier loss in Springfield, and have played better defense (and shot better) lately than they showed on that night in February. Or Two, the Jays were so badly outmatched in that game, they’re probably not capable of playing well enough to win Wednesday night. As with most things with this particular group, the answer is impossible to predict and may not be obvious until the final horn sounds.
One Big Paragraph with Lots O’Dots™: In the first two rounds of the CIT, Missouri State defeated Middle Tennessee 87-79 and Louisiana Tech 69-40 … Will Creekmore, who notched a team high 13 points in Missouri State’s 70-52 home win over Creighton on Feb. 6 with a 6-for-7 effort from the field to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists, had his first double-double of the season in the CIT Quarterfinal on Monday. He notched 10 points and 10 rebounds off the bench in helping the Bears to a 69-40 home win over Louisiana Tech … The Bears have outrebounded or matched 27 of their 34 opponents this season, including 17 of their last 19 foes (eight in a row). MSU also has posted double-figure offensive rebounds in 16 of its last 19 contests … Tonight’s game will mark the second time the Bears have faced a fellow MVC squad in the postseason. The Bears also dropped a 72-69 decision to Southern Illinois in the second round of the 1991 NIT at Hammons Student Center … Missouri State has hit at least one three-pointer in 250 consecutive games (since 12/14/02) and has made at least 4 treys in 17 straight … After struggling through an 11-20 season last year, Missouri State opened this campaign with 10 straight wins and is 22-12 after two CIT victories at home … MSU finished seventh in The Valley with an 8-10 league mark and owns a 17-2 mark at JQH Arena, where it averages 6,854 fans per game … Sophomore Kyle Weems leads the team in scoring (14.0 ppg.), rebounding (6.1) and steals (1.4) per game, while also making 41.3 percent of his three-point shots … Eastern Kentucky transfer Adam Leonard chips in with 13.0 points per game and has made a single-season MSU record 98 three-point shots. The Valley’s Newcomer of the Year, Leonard missed all seven shots he took and was scoreless in MSU’s first meeting with Creighton on Jan. 24th, but had 11 points in MSU’s win over the Jays on February 6th in Springfield … The Bears lead the MVC in scoring offense (71.4 ppg.) and allow just 65.4 points per contest … MSU shoots 44.6 percent from the field, 36.9 percent from three-point range and 73.1 percent at the line. The Bears also outrebound teams by 3.4 caroms per contest.
The Series: Creighton has won eight of the last nine meetings to claim a 30-23 lead over Missouri State in the series. Though Creighton has won three of its past four trips to Springfield, Missouri State still leads 16-7 in games played in Springfield.
Creighton has won 23 of the last 31 games with Missouri State, but nine of its last 14 Bluejay wins in the series have been by six points or less. Dana Altman is 25-15 against Missouri State and 3-1 against Cuonzo Martin.
Fun Fact #1: Heading into Tuesday’s two NIT quarterfinals, there were just 40 teams still alive in the postseason. Three of those 40 teams were from the Missouri Valley Conference. On a national basis, only the Atlantic-10 and Big Ten Conferences have more teams that are still alive.
Fun Fact #2: Creighton is a combined 17-29 in the postseason all-time. The Bluejays have gone 9-17 in 16 NCAA Tournaments, 5-10 in 10 National Invitation Tournaments, 1-2 in two National Catholic Invitational Tournament appearances and 2-0 all-time in their first CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament appearance.
Sad Fact #1: Monday’s win marked the first time in school history that Creighton won consecutive postseason games, a mind-boggling fact for a program in its 29th all-time postseason appearance.
The Totally Random Song I’d Play Right Now if I was Still a Radio DJ: I randomly asked my 12,000+ song iTunes Library to pick a song so that for the first time this season, its truly random. It chose ZZ Top’s “Legs.” I cannot argue with this.
The Pick: Creighton gets their 19th win of the season, and plays for the CIT Championship in Omaha next week.
Jays 75, Bears 72