Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs #17 Oklahoma State (12/20/1998)
Ed. Note: “Bluejay Rewind” is our popular summer series that looks back at games from years past, including highlight packages. Not all of these games are classics in the traditional sense, but all of them feature terrific performances from Bluejay greats, and we think you’ll enjoy watching them as much as we did.
Not all of the games in our Bluejay Rewind series are classics in the traditional sense, as the note says. Some are classics just because of their age. Some are all-time greats, like the win over #17 Oklahoma State in December of 1998. It’s one of the signature wins not only of the Dana Altman Era but in the history of the Civic Auditorium, yet because it wasn’t televised, most fans probably thought it would live on only in their memories.
The footage presented here is the game film shot by Altman’s film coordinator. It has no commentary, with only ambient sound from the raucous Civic crowd as a soundtrack. We’ve cut it into the usual Bluejay Rewind format, with all of Creighton’s baskets included, but because of the back-and-forth nature of the closing minutes, and the fact that it hasn’t been seen by anyone in over 15 years, we decided to present the final four minutes of the game, unedited, as a special “bonus feature” in a separate video.
Eddie Sutton started his coaching career at Creighton in 1969, going 82-50 including two wins in the NCAA Tournament during his final year on the Hilltop in 1974. His Hall of Fame career saw him become the first coach to ever take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament, including Final Four berths at two of those stops (Arkansas and Oklahoma State).
In 1997, he agreed to a home-and-home series with Dana Altman’s budding program thanks to the relentless lobbying of the late Dr. Lee Bevilacqua, CU’s team physician for 31 years, who had worked with Sutton during his time in Omaha. In the first meeting in Stillwater, the Cowboys won handily, 86-70. The following year, he brought his team to Omaha, and Creighton used his homecoming as inspiration for their first-ever “Men’s Basketball Alumni Weekend.” A Saturday night banquet featured a host of former coaches and players who had come back into town for the game, and prior to the game on Sunday afternoon, an alumni game was held. All of that stuff could have been a distraction to the current group of Bluejays. Instead, Altman looked at it as an important history lesson.
“It’s important that they have a little understanding of the Creighton basketball tradition, that there’s been some teams who have gone to the NCAA tournament and done pretty well,” Altman told the media the day before the game. “Right now, everything is so much the ESPN age that all the players know is the 1990s. Basketball in the ’70s and ’60s is ancient history to them. I think it’s good that they know the tradition.”
The tradition of Creighton hoops took the floor at the Civic two hours prior to tip-off, as legendary Bluejay coaches and players put on a show for the fans. The “White” team, jointly coached by Tom Apke and Tom Brosnihan, won 105-87 thanks to 17 points apiece from Mark Jones and Latrell Wrightsell, and 15 from Darin Plautz, who then hit the showers quickly before doing color commentary on WOW-AM of the main event. Red McManus and Tony Barone coached the Blue team, which was paced by 28 points from Duan Cole.
Often times, a game with this much hoopla surrounding it would have no hope of living up to the hype. Not this one. Not even with star Rodney Buford benched for showing up late for practice on Saturday, his starting job handed to Matt West. “He just told me I was four minutes late so I wasn’t going to play the first four minutes of the game, and he left it at that,” Buford said. “I understood. He’s trying to make me understand that this ballclub comes first, which it is.”
The timing was horrible, as Creighton was trying to win a home game over a ranked opponent for the first time in a quarter-century. That didn’t matter to Altman, who was making an example out of his star — no one was above the team, not even the All-MVC player. “If it cost us the game or cost us a bad start, that’s the way it was going to be,” Altman told the media after the game. “The guys stepped up and saved me and saved Rodney. I would have looked bad for making the decision if they had jumped out to a 10-0 start.”
Sans Buford, the Jays nearly played to a draw, trailing 11-10 after five minutes. After entering the game with 14:48 to play, he quickly made his presence felt with one of his patented highlight-reel dunks, and finished with 20 points in 27 minutes.
Unfortunately, just as Buford came in, Donnie Johnson left, with the starting forward suffering back spasms that forced him to miss the rest of the game. Doug Swenson struggled against the Cowboys’ big front line, and was in foul trouble most of the afternoon. That created an opportunity for Alan Huss, a 6’9″ sophomore not used to playing meaningful minutes. He responded with seven points, six rebounds, and solid defense in 21 minutes, including a still-baffling-to-this-day three-pointer with 2:48 to play that drew the Jays to within one point at 58-57. How unlikely was it? That triple was one of just three that Huss attempted all season, and the only one he made. In fact, it’s the only three-pointer he made in his entire four year career. You’d have never guessed it by watching this one; he pump-faked a defender into the air and out of his way, then used textbook shooting form to drain the shot, drawing nothing but nylon on its’ way through the basket.
The three was part of a terrific final four minutes, the culmination of a back-and-forth game that was massively entertaining. Trailing 56-52, Huss stuck a jumper to cut the deficit to two. OSU’s Alex Webber answered with a dunk on the other end to extend their lead back out to four, and then Huss swished his three-pointer to cut the deficit to just one. The Cowboys answered again, this time with a jumper from Desmond Mason to give them a 60-57 lead with 2:27 to go. Those would be their final points of the day.
Buford nailed a three-pointer on the next possession to tie the game at 60, and then Ryan Sears gave them the lead with 58 seconds to play on a three from the corner that sent the Civic Auditorium crowd into an absolute frenzy. After Swenson hit one of two free throws, the Cowboys’ Doug Gottlieb brought the ball up court with 17 seconds left and his team down 64-60. He threw an errant pass that sailed out of bounds, effectively ending any hopes of a comeback, and then Swenson sank two free throws to clinch it.
The Jays’ former coach came away impressed, but not surprised. “I said all along that I was really looking forward to seeing some of my former players and many of my friends, and we had a good time over there last night at the banquet,” Sutton said after the game. “But like I told my wife when I went out the door, ‘I’m looking forward to going up there, but I know I’m not looking forward to playing that game Sunday afternoon,’ because I had looked at enough film to know they had a good basketball team.”
And now, presented in its entirety, here’s the final four minutes of the game. The only edits are ones that were made by CU’s film coordinator back in 1998 to remove timeouts and stoppages. It runs just over 8:00 and is shown with no graphics, music or commentary, save for the occasional (and awesome) yelling from fans seated near the camera; it’s like being back in 1998 and reliving the game. Enjoy.
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