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Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs Wichita State (01-28-2006)

Ed. Note: This is the return of 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.

Coming into Creighton’s January 28, 2006 battle with Wichita State, the Jays had dropped a 62-48 game at Southern Illinois four days beforehand. They had fallen behind 10-0 in that one, and never led in a loss that dropped them out of first place in the MVC. As the Shockers came to Omaha, Creighton was 13-5 overall and 7-3 in the MVC, while Wichita was 17-4 on the year, and 8-2 in the MVC, tying them for first with Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa. The stakes for this Saturday night game were enormous.

The day before the game, Nick Porter talked to the media about the team’s mindset heading into a two-game homestand with Wichita and UNI. “We didn’t play as we have been playing (on Tuesday), and Southern made us pay for that. Now, we know we have to win. We know we gave one away, so we have to steal one back.”

Unfortunately, just as they had earlier in the week, Creighton dug themselves a deep hole. To be exact, they missed 18 of their first 20 shots, and spotted the Shockers a 19-point lead in front of the largest crowd to-date in the three-year old Qwest Center. Their 2-20 start from the field, encompassing the first 14 minutes of the game, led to a 25-6 Wichita lead. They’d go 16-34 the rest of the way, though, with two players leading the comeback — one you’d expect, and one you wouldn’t.

The one you’d never expect was Brice Nengsu, the player better known for what assistant coach Brian Fish had said about him at a booster function prior to his arrival on campus — that he’d make you forget the name Rodney Buford — than for anything he’d done on the court. On this night, Nengsu was unforgettable to everyone but the Shocker defense. He hit three huge three-pointers, including two straight during a key second-half sequence that cut a 40-32 deficit to 40-38, in the biggest night of his Bluejay career. Shocker coach Mark Turgeon spoke for most observers after the game when he noted, “I can’t pronounce his name but he made two huge 3s in the second half. I didn’t know that was a big part of his game. I knew he was somewhat skilled but those were two big 3s.”

The one you’d expect, of course, was Anthony Tolliver, a junior who was in the midst of a stellar season in which he was developing into the team’s star. He finished the night with 20 points, including 12 in a second half where he went 5-7 from the floor, showing off an array of offensive skills. With about eight minutes to go, he pump-faked from behind the three-point arc, got his defender to bite, and drove all the way to the rim for to give the Jays their first lead. Later, he took an actual three-pointer with 2:56 to play, this one giving the Jays back the lead at 54-52.

Wichita’s PJ Cousinard tied the game with a basket the next trip down, and they took the lead on a free throw by Karon Bradley with 1:48 to go. Tolliver went one-of-two from the line on the next possession to tie the score, and the Shockers drained the shot clock on their final possession before Kyle Wilson’s three-pointer missed errantly.

As was customary during that era of Jays basketball, they set up a final shot on-the-fly instead of calling timeout, figuring that not allowing the defense time to set up countered any disadvantage they had by not getting a play drawn up in the huddle. Johnny Mathies, struggling on a bum knee, had gone 1-9 from the field in the game but was still respected enough as a slasher that when he took the ball into the paint, Wichita’s defense collapsed on him. Shocker center Paul Miller left Tolliver to help on Mathies, leaving him open on the wing. Mathies dished it off, and the A-Train drained the shot just before the horn sounded for the game-winner.

After the game, Tolliver noted that it was his first buzzer-beater since middle school. He never hit a bigger shot in his collegiate career.

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