Creighton learned Saturday night what the rest of the Missouri Valley has been discovering the past three weeks.
Stay away from Illinois State.
The Redbirds got a monster second-half performance from senior Tyler Brown and some clutch baskets down the stretch from sophomore Johnny Hill in pulling out a 75-72 victory over the No. 16 Bluejays before 18,494 fans at the CenturyLink Center.
After starting league play 0-6, Illinois State has won six of its past seven games, with the only loss coming in a game in which it squandered a 15-point lead at Bradley.
“That is a very dangerous basketball team,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “That is a team no one is going to want to see in the first game in St. Louis in a couple of weeks because they have one of the better scorers in the league in Tyler Brown and probably the best center in the league in Jackie Carmichael.
“Tonight, they needed something out of somebody else. Johnny Hill gave them that.”
Hill scored 19 points, but it was his two baskets in the final five minutes and 13 seconds that were daggers. Brown had scored 13 straight points to put the Redbirds in a position to win their first true road game against a ranked opponent since 1985.
His 3-pointer that capped his impressive run gave Illinois State a 65-60 lead with 6:40 to play. Creighton countered with baskets from Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs to trim its deficit to a point, but on the Redbirds’ next possession, Hill took a pass from Brown and dropped in a 3-point shot from the wing.
It was only the second shot Hill had made from beyond the arc this season, but he converted an even bigger one with 1:22 to play. Creighton had come up empty on four straight possessions, and Illinois State stretched its lead to 70-64 on a basket by Carmichael with 2:20 remaining.
The Redbirds were trying to run down the clock on their next possession when Hill found the ball in his hands and the shot clock about to expire. He launched up a jumper from just inside the arc that rolled around the rim and dropped in to give his team a 72-64 lead.
“Johnny Hill is a competitor,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “He’s really bought in and he guarded his rear end off tonight. He stayed pretty true throughout the conference season and really competed.
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“He made some jump shots today. Johnny can shoot — he’s not a great 3-point shooter, but he can make 15- to 17-footers all night long. When a guy keeps a great attitude and accepts his role, sometimes things happen like that last shot going in.”
There was plenty of drama in the final 82 seconds, as Grant Gibbs made back-to-back 3-pointers to get his team within 73-70 with 42 seconds left. Hill then gave the Bluejays an opening when he missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, but 3-pointers by Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat were off the mark.
Hill grabbed the rebound of Manigat’s miss, was fouled and made two free throws with 11 seconds left. Gibbs countered four seconds later with two free throws to bring Creighton with three points, and the Bluejays got the ball back with a second to play when the Redbirds turned it over while trying to run out the clock.
Creighton tried to get the ball to Doug McDermott near midcourt, but the Redbirds knocked away the pass to seal the win that left them 15-10 and 6-7 in the Valley.
The Bluejays, losing their second straight game, dropped into a first-place tie with Indiana State and Wichita State with five games to play. Creighton will take a 20-5 record and a 9-4 conference mark into Wednesday’s game at Northern Iowa.
“I thought our team competed tonight,” Greg McDermott said. “I certainly don’t fault their effort, but we had a few mental mistakes that led to some easy baskets for them. They’re going to make some tough ones. That’s kind of how they play.”
No one makes tougher baskets than Brown, who scored 23 of his 27 points after halftime. He made 9 of 13 shots, several with Creighton defenders right on top on him. He also got free for a couple of easy ones.
“He’s really good,” Gibbs said. “He makes tough shots. The tough ones, we can live with. But it’s the backdoor and the switch under a screen, those are the ones we can’t live with.
“That’s the mental mistakes that came back to get us. You tip your hat to him when he makes the tough ones, but it’s our job to take away the easy looks, and that’s what got him going.”
Hill added 19 points and Carmichael had 16 for the Redbirds. Doug McDermott had 24 points, 17 in the first half, to lead Creighton, while Gibbs added 16 and Manigat 11.
The Bluejays suffered through their second rough shooting night of the season. They had entered the week leading the nation in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage but converted just 37.9 percent of their field goals against the Redbirds.
They made just 4 of 23 3-point attempts (17.4 percent). Both percentages are season lows.
Creighton did finish with a 48-29 advantage on the boards and committed a manageable 11 turnovers.
“We dominated the rebounding, we didn’t turn it over that much and the guys competed,” Greg McDermott said. “But we made a few too many mistakes on a night when we didn’t shoot the ball well from the 3-point line.”
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>> Video: Game highlights from the Creighton-Illinois State matchup:
>> Video: Postgame press conference with CU coach Greg McDermott and players: