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Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs SIU (01-18-2003)

Ed. Note: This is the part of our summer series that will look 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.

Creighton Basketball changed forever on January 18, 2003. For decades, they’d won conference titles, NCAA Tournament games, and had All-Americans…but they’d failed to be a consistent box-office draw. Big games drew well, though rarely sold out, and smaller games were routinely played in front of a half-full Civic Auditorium. The two NCAA Tourney teams of the Tony Barone Era drew an average of 5,823 fans at the gate, selling out just one home game (a late January game against Indiana State in 1991) and drawing over 8,000 fans just three times.

In the Altman Era, during the four-year stretch from 1998 to 2001 when they went to four straight NCAA Tournaments, they drew an average of 6,215 fans, drawing over 8,000 fans six times. Since the game we’re looking back at today, Creighton has played 178 home games, ALL OF THEM played in front of more than 8,000 fans. When you look back at this game, you’re looking back at the birth of the Modern Era of CU hoops.

You’re also looking at one of the greatest Creighton teams in history playing at it’s absolute peak. They’d started the season 14-1 and 5-0 in the MVC, with the only loss coming on the road to Xavier on New Years Eve, and had risen to #13 in the Associated Press Top 25. A decade later, it’s hard to describe what the groundswell felt like to those who weren’t there to experience it first-hand — seemingly out of nowhere, a team that two months earlier drew 4,076 fans for their home opener was the hottest ticket in town.

In that respect, the SIU game came at the perfect moment. The Bluejay bandwagon was filling up, and their biggest threat in the MVC was in town for a Saturday afternoon game nationally televised by ESPN. It was officially a sellout by midweek; the school decided to sell standing room only tickets and cram as many people as they could into the building. By 3:05 when the ball was tipped, over 1,000 more fans than there were seats were in the building had found their way inside — crammed against the wall of the middle level of the Civic, shoulder to shoulder, all the way around the arena.

As a national TV audience watched the end of a grueling, tedious Minnesota-Michigan State game that ran 35 minutes long, the 10,000+ inside the Omaha Civic Auditorium watched Creighton and Southern Illinois battle to a 25-25 tie ten minutes into the game. When ESPN finally joined the party at the under-eight timeout, they saw the Salukis rattle off a 15-2 run to take a big lead. Thanks to the Big Ten Foulfest that preceded it (and pre-empted the first 12 minutes of game time) that’s where we pick up the action, with the Jays fighting to make a game of it late in the first half.

Perhaps too jacked from seeing their home arena packed to the gills with Bluejay supporters, the Jays played tight in the first half, and an excellent Saluki team took advantage. That huge crowd made the difference in the second half, however. Waiting for a reason to explode, they got one when Kyle Korver hit three 3-pointers in a span of 38 seconds, the first one tying the game, the second tying the MVC record for most three-pointers in a career, and the third giving him the record and the Jays the lead.

From there, the crowd was so loud, so intense, Southern Illinois’ players had trouble communicating — illustrated best by a steal by DeAnthony Bowden late in the game. Following a dunk by Joe Dabbert, the Jays set up their press. Bowden sprinted 25 feet, sneaking up on SIU’s Jermaine Dearman for a steal from behind, and then quickly threw an alley-oop to Larry House that, pun intended, brought the house down. That steal quite simply doesn’t happen without the overwhelming crowd noise — Dearman would have heard him running up behind him in a quieter setting, and been able to prevent the steal. Instead, it was a complete surprise, Bowden picked his pocket, and the rest was history.

Next week: Creighton returns home two days later with a Top Ten ranking to take on Illinois State.

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