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Bluejay Rewind: Creighton vs Evansville (01/15/2003)

Bluejay Rewind: Creighton vs Evansville (01/15/2003)

Creighton has had a player make eight or more 3-pointers in a game five times. Tad Ackerman was the first, draining eight treys in a 79-63 loss at Drake in January of 1995. Terrell Taylor was next, hitting eight of them in the Jays’ 2002 NCAA Tournament win over Florida. Then Kyle Korver matched the feat on New Years Eve 2002 at Xavier in an all-time classic.

Ethan Wragge tied the school record with his nine 3’s at Villanova in 2014, a shooting performance for the ages that will be talked about by Creighton fans forever. The record he tied is the feature of the latest “Bluejay Rewind” — January 15, 2003, when Korver put on a show on a snowy night in Omaha against an Evansville squad coached by current Bluejay assistant Steve Merfeld.

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As the Bluejays prepared to start a rugged stretch of three home games in six days, they had climbed up to #13 in the AP poll and #14 in the Coaches Poll, and at 13-1 (4-0 in the MVC) they were the talk not just of the Valley, but of college basketball. In previewing the game against Evansville, the World-Herald’s Steve Pivovar illustrated the swift uptick in attention in his typically wry style:

“Creighton Coach Dana Altman answered questions for 12 minutes Tuesday during the Missouri Valley Conference’s weekly coaches telephone press conference. Normally, coaches get five minutes, and there have been years when that might have been four minutes and 30 seconds too long.”

The attention might have been too much for some teams, but the 2002-03 Bluejays were a veteran group that had gone to the NCAA Tournament four consecutive years. On that MVC teleconference, Altman noted as much. “It’s a good problem to have. If you don’t have those problems, then it means your team is not doing well. Some of our guys have been here a long time, so it’s nice to see them getting the recognition that they’re due. They’ve put a lot of work in, and I’m just hoping that they can keep their heads in there and we can keep it going. It’s not like this is the first year we’ve been winning. We’ve had some success the last four or five years. We’ve been to postseason play, and we’ve won 20 games per season. I think that’s helped their adjustment to this.”

Meanwhile, Merfeld’s first Evansville team was 5-7 coming into the game, coming off a big win over Bradley, and had showed marked improvement over Jim Crews’ final UE squad the year before. Still, it was a formidable challenge — CU had the MVC’s best scoring defense (allowing just 61.9 points per game) and highest scoring offense (81.9 points) at this point in the season, and Evansville had the league’s worst defense, allowing 78.3 points per game.

As gametime approached, so did a winter storm that would drop between five and six inches of snow on Omaha between 6pm and midnight. Treacherous driving conditions could not keep Bluejay fans away, as 8,084 fans — about a thousand shy of a sellout — filled the Civic to see Kyle Korver put on a long-range shooting clinic.

Evansville’s porous defense allowed him wide-open looks all night long, and as a result he went 9-14 from three-point range and 10-16 overall for 31 points. Remarkably, he did it all in just 22 minutes of action, sitting for large chunks of the second half once the outcome was no longer in doubt. How many points could he have scored had he played closer to his season average of 30 minutes? Against a defensive gameplan that Larry House called “stupid” in the World-Herald the next day, he might have gone off for 40 or more.

“A lot of teams don’t let Kyle get shots that he got tonight — he had a lot of open shots,” House told the media after the game. “Kyle can shoot like I’ve never seen a person shoot before. If you leave him open, he’s going to hit it.”

Korver could hardly believe his eyes. “The last time I had that many open shots was probably the exhibition game two years ago. We played Global Sports or someone, and they didn’t have a scouting report. That’s all nice but that’s not going to happen again. It’s not something I expect.”

Early in the game, there was little indication of what was to come; Creighton’s poor defensive effort and lack of movement offensively kept the game close. Evansville shot 52% in the first half, and with 7:58 to play they trailed by just four at 24-20. Dana Altman had seen enough, and lit into his team during the ensuing timeout. Whatever he said worked as the Jays rattled off a 29-14 run to end the half, with Korver making four 3-pointers during the stretch. On the last of his three-pointers, Korver was closer to the “Jays” logo at half court than he was to the three-point line when he released the ball; it went in without even touching the rim, because it was that kind of night.

The Jays’ 19-point halftime lead was trimmed to 62-50 six minutes in the second half, but then their defense went to work, and held Evansville to just two field goals and six total points the rest of the game. Korver continued torching the nets, and when he exited with just under seven minutes to play, the Jays were up by nearly 40 points.

“A couple of (Kyle’s) baskets were so deep it probably shocked them,” Altman said after the game. “He was just feeling it tonight. I don’t discourage him, no matter where he shoots from. As long as they’re going in, I just keep my mouth shut and let him go. When he’s 6 for 8, it’s kind of hard to argue with that.”

***

After the midweek win over the Aces, Creighton welcomed Southern Illinois to the Civic, where more than 1,000 OVER capacity saw one of the most memorable games in the venerable building’s history. They climbed into the Top 10 in both polls following that win…and then went on the road to Evansville the following week for the rematch.

This time, the Aces prepared (and executed) a masterful gameplan to stifle Korver, tasking junior Clint Cuffle with face-guarding him every second he was on the court. Cuffle never let him get a clean look in the 38 minutes he was on the floor, and guarded Korver so closely that the star could only get off five shots in the first half — making just one — and seven in the second half, all but one of them in the furious final three minutes when the Jays tried desperately to come back. He failed to make a three-pointer for the only time all season, and the first time in 60 games, dating back to a win at Northern Iowa the year before when Greg McDermott employed a box-and-one to deny him touches.

The shocking 74-66 loss led ESPN’s 10pm SportsCenter, with a video clip of 20-25 Evansville students rushing the floor to celebrate that haunts my dreams occasionally to this day. It refocused the Jays, though, and they’d win eight of their next nine games — culminating in another great Korver performance, where he made seven 3-pointers against Fresno State in the first-ever BracketBusters game.

Here now is Korver’s record-setting night. Travis Justice and Kevin Sarver are on the call for KMTV’s broadcast. Enjoy!

About Tom Nemitz

Tom is the creative production manager at an Omaha advertising agency, and holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from Creighton University. In his spare time, he covers Creighton sports for WBR, which he co-founded with four others in 2009.
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