Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs DePaul (11/09/2007)
In March of 2007, Creighton won the MVC Tournament and earned an NCAA Tourney berth on the backs of three stellar seniors in Nate Funk, Anthony Tolliver, and Nick Porter. Those three accounted for over 75% of the Jays’ scoring and 65% of their rebounding, leaving them with almost a complete overhaul heading into 2007-08. It would be the most inexperienced Creighton team in over 30 years, and the first Creighton team since 1985-86 to return just one starter.
They entered the season with nine newcomers; the lone returning starter, Dane Watts, averaged 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game the prior season. Among the other returnees were Pierce Hibma, Nick Bahe, and Josh Dotzler, the latter having started eight games in an injury-plagued 2006-07 season.
The nine newcomers included four players who’d redshirted during the 2006-07 year, chief among them Chad Millard, who’d transferred from Louisville, Kenny Lawson, Jr., who’d redshirted after knee trouble ended his freshman season before it began, and Casey Harriman. A pair of JuCo transfers, Booker Woodfox and Cavel Witter, joined them, along with three freshman: Kaleb Kover, Kenton Walker, and P’Allen Stinnett.
The new group of Bluejays took the court for the first time on November 9 in a home game against DePaul, a team enduring a rebuilding of their own after losing two players to the NBA Draft (Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia) off of a club that advanced to the third round of the NIT the previous year. Opening with an opponent of DePaul’s caliber was something out of the ordinary for Dana Altman, and it concerned him.
“In a perfect world, we’d like to have four or five games to get everything organized,” Altman said the day before the game. “Everybody would, but they’re in the same boat that we are. They have some new guys and we do, too. They have a little bit of an advantage in that they have some experienced guards, but this is their first game, too.”
Senior Nick Bahe agreed, telling the World-Herald, “The biggest thing that we’ve been trying to drive home to the new guys is that if they mess up in practice, Coach can stop things, bite them and start all over again. Come Friday night, we can’t say, ‘Hey, DePaul, can we have that possession back? We’ve been working to try to make sure everyone knows every possession counts and everything is for real. But emotionally and physically, I think we’re ready to go. And it’s going to be a real, real special environment. Energy-wise, if you’re not flying around, you’re probably flat-lining.”
The Jays may have been a bit too fired up, as over the first nine minutes, they missed 14 of their first 17 shots, turned it over five times, and were consistently beaten on defense. As a result, DePaul built a 23-6 lead, but the Qwest Center crowd kept the Jays in the game — and were soon whipped into a frenzy by a pair of newcomers.
Millard hit back-to-back three pointers on both sides of the under-eight timeout, stole the inbounds pass after the second trey, and laid in an easy bucket to cut the DePaul lead to 25-21 and give CU momentum. The Jays would tie the game at 32 before the break, and then another newcomer took the spotlight.
P’Allen Stinnett scored all 23 of his points in the second half, making 9-12 from the floor and a perfect 5-5 from three-point range. He began the half with a layup to give Creighton their first lead of the game, followed by a three to make it 44-40, and then ran off eight straight points as part of a 14-4 run midway through the half.
DePaul gamely kept it a one-possession game, but then Stinnett buried threes on consecutive possessions, missed a dunk on an alley-oop, and converted a layup thanks to a ridiculous pass from — who else? — Millard. Threes from Dotzler and Witter immediately followed, giving the Jays a double-digit lead, and they’d go on to win 74-62.
The 17-point comeback was the second-biggest in arena history at the time, and Stinnett’s 23 points were the most for a Bluejay in their debut game in over 20 years. It was a helluva start to that era of Creighton hoops, and one that had people around the program very excited for the future.
As it turned out, that 2007 trip to the NCAA’s in the March prior to the arrival of this group wound up being Altman’s last dance on the Hilltop. Still, there were many shining moments for the final chapter of the Altman Era, and the debut for this group against DePaul in November of 2007 is certainly one of the best.
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