Up until they committed six of basketball’s cardinal sins in a four-minute span to open the second half, the 25th-ranked Creighton Bluejays were giving the 15th-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs all they could handle and more Friday night inside the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The visitors, up by seven points at halftime, withered away after the break and Gonzaga used Creighton’s miscues as a launch pad to craft a comeback and lead by as many as 19 points in a game the Bulldogs would end up winning 91-74.
“Well, we missed a layup, we fouled a three-point shooter and we had four turnovers in the first 10 possessions,” eighth-year Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I mean, you can’t do that.”
That’s the sequence that got Gonzaga back into it, but it only consumed a fraction of the second half – and even when Creighton did begin to tidy things up, it didn’t necessarily mean the Bluejays were getting closer on the scoreboard.
Creighton shot 38 percent from the field in the second half because too often, it tried to test Gonzaga’s tall trees – namely Killian Tillie – at the rim. That’s not how the Bluejays were supposed to beat the Bulldogs, but they frantically ditched their game plan after halftime and wound up getting outscored 54-30 by a GU team that happened to be playing its stiffest defense in the paint.
“Our message was attack the rim to make a play for somebody else, not to make a play for yourself,” McDermott said. “They’re so good at protecting the rim, their shot-blocking is so good, and we really got away from that in the second half.”
The Bluejays assisted on 13 buckets in the first half, but didn’t disperse the ball nearly as well in the second, dishing out just four assists. They paid a price for trying to be aggressive around the rim, scoring 20 points in the first half compared to 12 in the second.
And of GU’s five blocked shots, four came in the final 20 minutes. Tillie got a paw on three on those.
“We got the switches that we wanted, we attacked the rim, but then we tried to score on their shot-blocking and it really put us in a tough spot,” McDermott said.
Before that happened, the Bluejays were beating the Zags and having a grand time inside a venue that’s supposed to scare visiting teams off as soon as they step into the building.
“This is a really good team, a really tough to place and for 20 minutes we were really, really good,” McDermott said.
Creighton was shooting 58 percent from the field in the first half and the Bluejays canned half of their 3-pointers (7-of-14) before stubbing their toe in the second half.
“That team right there, as you’ve seen last week in the PK challenge, they’re going to be one of the best teams in the country,” said Creighton’s Marcus Foster, who finished 5-of-9 from beyond the arc with a team-high 21 points. “What I take out of it is, we can compete with one of the best teams in the country, but we kind of have to figure out how to sustain it for 40 minutes.”
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