>> Video Below: Postgame press conference
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Josh Jones' teammates have learned what to do when Creighton's senior guard heats up, as he did Wednesday night against Alabama-Birmingham.
“We just step back and let Josh be Josh,” Bluejay forward Ethan Wragge said.
Jones ignited a second-half comeback that carried No. 15 Creighton to a 77-60 win at CenturyLink Center. Paid attendance for the game was 15,755.
Jones scored 10 straight points early in the second half to turn a 45-35 deficit into a tie game. He later tacked on eight points during a decisive 17-0 run that dashed the Blazers' upset hopes.
“He was good,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “We all know he has the ability. He's so streaky, and he's not afraid of any shot. He's not afraid of the big moment. We needed some buckets there, and he knocked down some big ones.”
In the process, Jones helped deliver a message to the rest of college basketball. Teams can do all they can to take away All-American Doug McDermott, but the Bluejays are hardly a one-man show.
McDermott saw his string of 37 straight games scoring in double figures snapped by the combination of first-half foul trouble and a scrappy UAB defense that gave him no room to operate even when Creighton managed to get him the ball.
McDermott finished with five points, his lowest output since being held scoreless in the ninth game of his freshman season. He sat out more than 13 minutes of the first half when he picked up two quick fouls.
“I would think that stat line would give us an advantage,” Blazer coach Jerod Haase said, “but they're a team — it's a cliché — that you pick your poison. They have so many good players around McDermott, and he's fantastic.
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“One of the reasons he's very good is that he has players around him that are very good as well. We double-teamed everyone in the post, but the byproduct of that is that we gave ups some 3s.”
Jones knocked down four of them to finish with 18 points. Forward Ethan Wragge also made four shots from beyond the arc in scoring 12. Gregory Echenique and Gibbs each scored 13 points, with Echenique tacking on 16 rebounds and four blocked shots in spearheading a defensive performance that improved as the game wore on.
With McDermott spending most of the first half watching, UAB broke out to a 37-33 lead by shooting 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. The Blazers were also active defensively and on the boards, finishing the half with a 17-14 rebounding advantage.
UAB opened the second half with an 8-2 spurt that hiked the lead to 45-35 with 17:07 to play. That's when Jones got going.
He scored on a drive to the basket, then added two free throws when fouled on another drive. He connected on a 3-pointer from the left wing, then made a second from almost the same spot on the Bluejays' next possession.
The 10-point lead the Blazers had worked so hard to build disappeared in 2½ minutes.
“I've said this 100 times in my three years here, and that's Josh is Josh,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I've come to accept who he is. I've learned to understand him. He loves the game, he loves Omaha, he loves Creighton, and he'll do anything to help us win games.
“It's kind of cool to see it all come together on a night like tonight when we really needed it.”
UAB weathered Jones' initial onslaught, three times regaining the lead. The last came with 11:10 to play when Jordan Swing converted a three-point play for a 55-53 advantage.
The Blazers scored only five points the rest of the way, and Creighton put the game away with a 17-0 run that Echenique started with a basket inside. Jahenns Manigat and Jones followed with 3-pointers, and a Gibbs layup with 8:11 to play pushed Creighton's lead to 63-55.
Jones then delivered a knockout punch, sinking his final 3-pointer before knifing across the free-throw area and delivering a soft jumper that made it 68-55. Gibbs then capped the run with another drive to the basket.
During the decisive five-minute stretch, UAB missed eight shots and turned the ball over once.
“As good as the offense was the second half, the defense was even better,” Greg McDermott said. “We were more active, quicker to the ball and the backboards. Our pace isn't going to wear into a team until the last 10 minutes of the game.
“Finally, I think running every time got to them. I think Doug being fresh in the second half helped in that regard. Suddenly, their double team is not as quick to come and we can get a couple easy ones in there. The close-outs aren't quite as sharp because their guys were tired, and we knocked down some 3s.”
Jones made all but one of his second-half shots to finish 6 of 9 for the night. After shooting 44 percent in the first half, Creighton converted 57 percent of its shots in the final 20 minutes to finish at 50.9 percent for the game.
Afterward, Jones, whose nickname is “The Legend,” downplayed his heroics.
“That was just part of being a senior,” Jones said. “Coach Mac believes in me. Because of the type of player I am, he has to live and die with some of the decisions I make. Tonight, he believed in me and let me be myself.
“And I made plays tonight.”