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Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs Florida (03/15/2002)

Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs Florida (03/15/2002)

The 2002 NCAA Tournament marked the fourth straight year that Creighton played in the Big Dance, as they continued to reload instead of rebuild during the heights of the Altman Era. Gone were starters Ryan Sears, Ben Walker, and Livan Pyfrom. In their place were a freshman point guard (Tyler McKinney), a pair of JuCos (Larry House and DeAnthony Bowden), and a transfer (Brody Deren) who all started the season as question marks, and ended it as key components of another MVC championship squad.

Of course, it helps when you’ve got the MVC Player of the Year who leads your team in scoring (15.1), rebounding (5.6), assists (3.22) and steals (1.59). Kyle Korver, in a sensational junior season, was named MVP of both the regular season and tournament in the MVC, ranking in the top-15 of conference leaders in 11 different statistical categories. Helping shoulder the scoring load was fellow junior Terrell Taylor, who was the MVC’s Sixth Man of the year after averaging 12.1 points per game coming off the bench.

The Jays lost just three times after a January 5 OT loss at Northern Iowa, en route to a 23-9 record (14-4 in the league), winning both the regular season and tournament titles. That strong finish was thanks in large part to Taylor forming a vicious 1-2 punch with Korver, giving the Jays a pair of dynamic scorers from behind the arc. Over the last six games of the regular season and their three MVC Tourney games, Taylor averaged 16.6 points and made 30-of-33 free throws (90.9 percent), 23-of-48 three-pointers (47.9 percent) and 48-of-98 shots overall from the floor (49.0 percent). Included in that stretch was a career-night at Drake, where he finished with 28 points. Taylor hit 10-of-14 shots, including 5-of-8 three-pointers, one of which tied the game and sent it to overtime. He also made four treys vs Wichita State, five of them at Bradley, and four more in a second game vs Drake. At the MVC Tournament, Taylor had nine points vs. Northern Iowa, 19 points in 20 minutes vs. Illinois State and 20 points in 26 minutes vs. Southern Illinois while being named to the all-Tournament team.

And then came the NCAA Tournament vs Florida.

Taylor scored 28 points, tying a career-high, with all 28 points coming after halftime. He made eight three-pointers, every one of them seemingly coming at a key moment — a three to tie the game and force overtime, a three to win it in the second OT — essentially single-handedly carrying the Jays through a double-overtime nail-biter. National media sat up and took notice of the sharp-shooting guard after that performance, but to Bluejay fans, it was no surprise; Taylor had been on a tear for a month-and-a-half prior to the game in Chicago, and the explosion against Florida was simply a continuation of that.

Still, Creighton fell behind by as many as 11 points in the first half, by as many as nine in the second half, and needed a 10-2 run over the final two minutes just to force overtime. And even with Taylor shooting lights-out, they needed not one but two Florida turnovers to give themselves a chance to win. AND they’d play those two extra periods without both Deren and Korver, who had fouled out, forcing Altman to play a lineup of four guards and 6’7″ Mike Grimes at center against a Florida team full of future NBA talent. Look at the lineup CU was playing with in the final 90 seconds of regulation and the overtimes, watch Florida go into a 2-3 zone which flummoxed a Creighton team with no real options to break the zone, and it’s a struggle even now to figure how the Jays won.

Of course, when the only scoring option is Terrell Taylor, and a shooter of his caliber is having a game like this, you don’t really need any other options, even with the rest of the deck stacked against them. And after watching him hit dagger after dagger after dagger, it’s not such a struggle to understand how they won after all; it’s obvious.

In the next day’s New York Times, Ira Berkow wrote:

“Terrell Taylor, who does not start for Creighton, said he watched a Michael Jordan DVD before his team played Florida on Friday. He figured it might give him inspiration to play at the United Center, Jordan’s former home court.

After what Taylor did to Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Regional on Friday, two things seem plausible: Every basketball player in the country may think about buying that DVD, and Jordan himself might want one of Terrell Taylor.”

Hank Gola of the New York Daily News wrote:

“It was a Jordanesque performance right down to the last crossover dribble and buzzer – beating trey. Terrell Taylor, working the place Michael built, singlehandedly lifted Creighton to an 83-82, double-overtime upset of Florida on Friday in the Midwest Region.

Taylor scored 28 points, all after halftime, and when his shot from 23 feet rippled through the basket with two tenths of a second left in double OT, it brought some fresh air to a building that has been a little stale since No. 23 walked out.”

And in the World-Herald, Tom Shatel continued the Jordan storyline, writing:

“So the kid wearing No. 23, the kid who grew up wanting to be like Mike, gets to play on his court in his city. And the kid is wearing his Michael Jordan tattoo, with the Jordan socks and armband and Washington Wizards No. 23 T – shirt with you – know – who’s name on the back. And this is after the kid was so nervous about seeing the statue of his idol that he wouldn’t even look at it as the team bus drove past. He had to go back later, after practice, and walk backwards toward the statue until the moment was just right to turn around and gawk.

And then, coming out of the locker room, the kid runs down the hallway past the Chicago Bulls locker room and then out the tunnel, past the six NBA championship trophies emblazoned on the wall. Just like Mike used to do.

And there’s his team, Creighton, overmatched in talent but not heart, clawing for the kind of NCAA tournament upset that the good folks of Omaha will be able to recite shot by shot 30 tournaments from now.”

Here it is, 13 years later, and sure enough Creighton fans can indeed recite the latter stages of the game shot-for-shot. It’s an incredible, improbable performance, coming on one of the sport’s biggest stages, and the end result is one of the greatest wins in program history. Rewatch it now, in all its’ glory, in this week’s edition of Bluejay Rewind.

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