The Bluejays made a school-record 66.7 percent of their field-goal attempts in rallying for an 84-71 Missouri Valley Conference victory over Evansville before an announced 15,773 at Qwest Center Omaha.
Creighton coach Dana Altman has said all along that he figured shooting would be one of his team’s strengths, but the Bluejays came into the game seventh in the league in field-goal percentage (.434) and last in 3-point accuracy (.324).
“Tonight was the first time that it felt like everything was going to go in for us,’’ Creighton guard Antoine Young said. “It was good to hit some shots.’’
Young fueled a 15-2 surge that allowed Creighton to erase a six-point halftime deficit in the opening 3½ minutes of the second half.
Scoreless at the break, the 6-foot guard from Bellevue West tallied eight straight points, with his three-point play at the 18:21 mark giving Creighton the lead for good at 40-38.
He added a jumper on the Bluejays’ following possession, then buried a 3-point shot on the next. Redshirt freshman Josh Jones capped the spurt that put Creighton ahead 47-40 with a driving basket for two of his career-high 14 points.
“We knew that was coming,’’ said Evansville coach Marty Simmons, whose team shot 60.9 percent in the first 20 minutes in building a 38-32 lead. “We knew the first four minutes would be the most important, and they just played with a little more intensity.
“They made some plays, and we didn’t value the basketball like we did that whole first half. That set the tone for the remainder of the half.’’
Evansville managed to close within four points on two occasions, the last when Troy Taylor’s three-point play made it 56-52 with 11:35 left. A steal by Young and a layup started a 6-1 surge, and the Purple Aces never got closer than six the rest of the way in falling to 6-16 and 0-12 in the league.
It was Jones’ dunk, off a halfcourt pass from Chad Millard, that pushed Creighton’s final shooting percentage to a school-record standard.
The basket, with 1:10 left, allowed the Bluejays to match their biggest lead of the game at 80-63 as they improved to 12-11 and 7-5.
The Bluejays made 28 of 42 shots, including 10 of 18 from 3-point range. The latter number was particularly encouraging to Altman as it marked the third straight game in which the Bluejays have made 10 or more shots from beyond the arc.
“To be real honest, when we started the year, we were hoping we could hit eight, nine, 10 3s a game as we did last year,’’ Altman said. “To only be hitting five there for a long part of the season and to be shooting such a horrible percentage really dampened our attack.’’
Every Bluejay who took a shot made at least half of his attempts. Justin Carter, 5 for 5 in the first half, led the Bluejays with 17 points and seven rebounds. Jones made 4 of 6 shots in getting his 14 points, while Young finished with 12, Cavel Witter 11 and Ethan Wragge 10.
Stopping Evansville shots, not making its own, was Creighton’s primary concern in the first 20 minutes. The Purple Aces, last in the Valley in 3-point baskets per game (4.3), made seven of their first eight attempts from beyond the arc to own a 33-23 lead with 6:38 left in the half.
“We gave them some easy ones early,’’ Carter said. “Once they knocked those down, the basket got really big for them.’’
The Bluejays tightened up defensively in the second half, holding the Purple Aces to 40.7 percent. They still finished at 50 percent, their third-best shooting game of the season.
Evansville freshman Colt Ryan finished with a career-high 31 points, five more than his previous high Jan. 3 vs. Creighton. Ryan scored Evansville’s final 10 points in the last 1:15.
The win allowed Creighton to move into sole possession of third place, a game behind second-place Wichita State. More important, the Bluejays’ red-hot shooting raised hopes that a team that has played aimlessly for much of the season might be finding its mark just in time.
“Coach talked to us before the game that this is our month,’’ CU guard Darryl Ashford said. “We’re not where we want to be, but we can still make a run in this last month. It’s time to do it right here.”
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