When the dust settled from another typical Creighton-Northern Iowa game Tuesday, the Bluejays had accomplished something that no team had in program history and Doug McDermott had bumped a school scoring legend down a notch.
McDermott scored 31 points to move past Kyle Korver into fifth place on Creighton’s career scoring chart in leading the No. 12 Bluejays to a 79-68 victory over the Panthers.
The fourth straight sellout crowd of 17,391 at the CenturyLink Center probably had difficulty distinguishing the manner in which Creighton picked up the win from some of the recent Bluejay-Panther battles.
“Last year we played two knock-down, drag-out physical basketball games with them,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “They have everybody back but Johnny Moran, and we had everybody back except Antoine (Young). So why would you expect anything different this year?”
The Bluejays weathered a slow start to bump and grind their way to a win that made them the first Creighton team to ever start a season 17-1. The 1942-43 team won its first 16 games before losing its final contest of the season. The 2002-03 squad also won 16 of its first 17 but lost its 18th game.
Korver was a senior on that club, and he finished off a legendary career with 1,801 points in four seasons. Doug McDermott needed 19 points to move him off the No. 5 spot on the school scoring chart, and he got it when his 20th point of the game gave Creighton a 62-50 lead with 8:09 to play.
He scored 11 more, punctuating his fifth 30-point game of the season with a fast-break dunk with 25 seconds to play. Fouled on the play, McDermott made the free throw to complete the three-point play.
“It’s pretty cool,” McDermott said, referring to passing Korver 2 ½ seasons into his collegiate career. “It’s surreal, to be honest. I’m already a junior, and it feels like it’s gone by so fast.
“It’s a cool accomplishment but I’m not too worried about that. I’m just worried about Wichita.”
The Bluejays’ next game comes Saturday at Wichita State, which is tied for second in the Missouri Valley standings behind 6-0 Creighton. That kicks off a three-game road swing for the Bluejays, who don’t play again at home until Jan. 30 as figure skaters now take over the CenturyLink.
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“It was important momentum-wise heading into a tough road trip to get this win,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “It gives us something to build on going into these road games.”
Actually, Creighton is riding the wave of momentum it has built by winning 11 games in a row. The Bluejays have not lost since Boise State came to Omaha and left with an 83-70 upset on Nov. 28.
Early in Tuesday’s game, Northern Iowa (9-9, 2-4) appeared intent on doing the same, controlling the tempo and taking advantage of Creighton’s defensive game plan that was built on denying a team that had made 15 3-point baskets in its previous game from getting good looks from beyond the arc.
“We were able to keep them off the free-throw line and run them off the 3-point line,” Greg McDermott said. “We wanted to try to accomplish that going in, but they spread you out because of their ability to shoot it.
“You have to give up something, and we gave up some mid-range stuff and some plays to the basket for Anthony James. He made us pay.”
James, whose last-second basket in Cedar Falls beat Creighton last year, scored a season-high 25 points, with most of his 11 baskets coming on hard drives to the basket or pull-up jumpers. Senior forward Jake Koch added 19 points and played what Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said was the best game of his career.
“We knew coming into the game that they wouldn’t provide much help off (our 3-point shooters), and that there was going to be some space on the floor,” Jacobson said. “I thought Jake was terrific, and AJ had a good game as well.”
With Koch scoring nine points and James seven, Northern Iowa found itself with a 22-18 lead with 8:22 left in the first half. Complicating matters for the Bluejays was their inability to make shots.
Doug McDermott, coming off last Friday’s virtuoso performance in which he made 14 straight shots in scoring 39 points at Missouri State, missed 4 of his first 5 field-goal attempts against the Panthers. Overall, the Bluejays misfired on 8 of their 12.
“Shots that normally go in weren’t falling,” he said. “Sometimes that happens.”
Gibbs and backup center Will Artino got the Bluejays’ going with a 9-0 run that put Creighton in the lead for good. Artino started it with a layup and Gibbs, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and seven assists, made a 3-pointer for a 23-20 lead.
Gibbs scored on a drive on Creighton’s next possession, and Artino’s layup capped the spurt. James stopped the run with a jumper, but McDermott converted a three-point play on the next possession for a 30-24 lead.
The Bluejays finished the half by making 11 of their final 16 shots to take a 37-32 lead into the break. They then converted 16 of 28 attempts in the second half to finish the game at 55.4 percent against a team that had been limiting its opponents to 41.8 percent accuracy.
Equally important, Creighton stepped up its defensive pressure and held Northern Iowa to 24 points in the first 18 minutes of the second half.
“They’re a very good defensive team,” Koch said.
And McDermott is one tough dude on offense. He finished the game 12 of 22 from the field, with his 31 points pushing his career total to 1,814.
“He’s a tough player,” Koch said. “He does a wide range of things, and he works hard for his points.”
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