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Bluejay Rewind: Jays vs Wichita State (02/24/2007)

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.

Senior Night in 2007 was more unusual than most, because the four seniors arrived at Creighton at different times and had very different career paths. Nate Funk started his Bluejay career as a reserve on the great Kyle Korver-led 2002-03 team that won 29 games, became Korver’s heir apparent as a sophomore, blossomed into a star in his own right as a junior, and then had two senior seasons — early in his “first” senior year, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Anthony Tolliver came to Omaha in 2003, barely played as a freshman, nearly left the program as a sophomore, emerged as the team leader as a junior after Funk’s injury, and played himself into a professional career as an outstanding senior. Nick Porter arrived in 2004 after two years in junior college, but a preseason knee injury forced him to take a medical redshirt before he could contribute on the court; he was a key member of the 2005 team, but as a senior, he was an integral contributor and scored in double-figures in 15 of 18 MVC games. And finally, fellow junior-college transfer Manny Gakou started his Bluejay career in 2005, and played two years in a reserve role, providing solid-if-unspectacular minutes behind Tolliver.

“I always think of the guys as individuals,” Creighton coach Dana Altman told the media the day before the game. “These guys all came at different times. They’ve been here five years, four years, three years and two. This wasn’t a group that came in here together. I look at what each of them have given to the program, and they’ve all, in their own way, added to our program.”

Funk’s second senior year, combined with the emergence of Tolliver and Porter in his absence, was supposed to give Creighton a formidable three-headed monster heading into the 2006-07 season. They were widely predicted to win the Valley and go deep into March, and were ranked 19th in the preseason poll before losing to an unranked Nebraska team in the season’s second game. That loss tumbled them from the rankings, and they would not return the rest of the season. Non-conference losses to Dayton, Fresno State and Hawaii followed, and with a middling 12-5 MVC record entering the season’s final day, they were on the wrong side of the bubble.

In the days leading up to the season finale, they blew a double-digit lead in front of a sold-out home crowd and lost to Drexel in a nationally-televised BracketBuster game, then followed it up with a loss at Illinois State after once again blowing a double-digit lead. Barring a run in St. Louis, they were NIT bound, which was something that didn’t interest the seniors, as Funk made perfectly clear the day before the game when he told the media, “I don’t want to play in the NIT.”

Tolliver echoed those sentiments, adding “We definitely don’t want to come back here, as bad as that sounds. Hopefully, we’ll be playing our last game somewhere else around the country.”

In the home finale, the seniors did what they could to position themselves to make an NCAA run in St. Louis, as they combined to score 46 of the team’s 71 points, and were especially effective in a second half where they were determined not to blow another lead. Up eight at the break, they expanded the lead to 16 early in the second half, then used their defense to hold Wichita State at bay. “Our previous couple of games, we might have well stayed in the locker room the second half,” Creighton guard Nate Funk told the Omaha World-Herald afterward. “We made it a point tonight to come out with some energy in the second half.”

Funk had 16 points, and made 4-5 shots in the second half along with five assists. Porter scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, going 3-5 from the field and 6-8 from the line. Tolliver added 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots, and even Gakou got into the books with two points on a nice post move in the first half.

Combined with a terrific shooting performance from Dane Watts, who made his first five shots — all three-points — the Jays toppled the Shockers 71-54 and finished in sole possession of second place. A week later, Funk would almost single-handedly will the team into the NCAA Tournament with an Arch Madness for the ages.

About Tom Nemitz

Tom is the creative production manager at an Omaha advertising agency, and holds a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from Creighton University. In his spare time, he covers Creighton sports for WBR, which he co-founded with four others in 2009.
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