Sunday, December 31, 2006

Special Win Closes Out 2006

Down by 11 with 4:38 to play vs. Missouri State at home yesterday, I wrote in my notes "Ball Game" after 2 FT's went down for Bears. I was all prepared to host the Bluejay Wrap-Up post game show and talk about missed opportunities, lack of effort in the second half, and season of promise gone sour. It didn't happen that way although it very easily could have. A win is a win but those with pace-makers should beware of the 2006-2007 Bluejays. This season is proving to be one heck of a roller coaster ride.

The team needed a spark and a minor miracle to send the crowd home with smiles. What they got from their 2 Senior, First Team PreSeason All-MVC players most likely saved their season. Nate Funk and Anthony Tolliver, for the first time, looked like they were on the same page for most of the game. Down the stretch, the two stars willed their team to victory with clutch free throws and tremendous defense. Funk 's line: 23 points, 7 assists, 5 reb, 3 steals in 37 minutes. Tolliver's: 20 points, (10-13 FTs), 6 rebs, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals in 35 minutes. Even though Dane Watt's 3 pointer won the game for the Jays, it was Funk and AT that deserve the most credit for the W.

A 77-74 win over Missouri St. 1-0 in the Valley. Still undefeated at home. Maybe the start of the year that everyone was hoping for.

Coach Dana Altman has been searching for a line up that would give his team the best chance to win. He tried everything in the first 10 games that he could think of and the result was a disappointing 4 loss start. Yesterday, in front of nearly 16,000, the Bluejays found a line up that brought the intensity that the fans and Coach had been expecting all year long. Funk, Bahe, Watts, Tolliver and yes, Pierce Hibma on the floor together appeared to understand what Coach Altman was asking them to do. The result was a 18-4 run for the Jays over the final 4:38 and big win.

I've been very critical of Hibma this year but his 6 points in the first half and defensive effort in the 2nd were huge. Now, he almost wore the goat horns by taking a 3 when the team was down by 4 with 1 minute to play. Luckily for him, it didn't cost the team. I've said before, Pierce should not be shooting 3's in key moments but his defense down the stretch set a great example.

The Jays didn't do it alone and had help in the comeback. The Bears missed 4 crucial free throws down the stretch and looked overwhelmed by the crowd's intensity. Coach Barry Hinson after the game said it all "I told them in the locker room that we gave that game away. Teams that win championships, which we have never done, find ways to win games like that." Winning on the road in the Valley (and in Omaha) is going to very tough this year, especially if the Qwest Center crowds are similar to yesterday. (Although UNI did it last night at Witchta)

Senior Blake Ahearn dropped 21 points on the Jays including 5 of 10 3 point shooting (a few seemingly from Grand Island) but it wasn't enough. Missouri State went to the line 13 fewer times than the Jays and proved to be the difference. It was a game of streaks and the 14-0 run midway through the second half for the Bears may have happened too soon.

Without Ty Morrison, without Josh Dotzler - Creighton needed their bench to step up. Nick Bahe, Pierce Hibma and Manny Gakou all played key roles in the comeback and gave the starters a much needed blow. With Freshman Isaac Miles playing his worst game as a Jay, (committing 5 turnovers in 24 minutes, looking completely lost a times) Nick Bahe came in and settled down the team. It proved to be a key component to the win. His attitude and emotion will be something that the Jays need more of this season.

I called the game a must win and they got it done vs. the Bears. Next up is Illinois St on Monday. If The Qwest Center crowd can duplicate the atmosphere from yesterday, it will be very tough for them to walk in and win, especially with how young they are. With Nebraska football playing right before the game, the number of fans in attendance will be an interesting key to watch.


Jon said...

That was Indiana St that crushed Purdue, not Illinois St. I'd say Illinois St. is the weakest team in the valley, but they can give us a game if we let them.

Matt Perrault said...

oh...whoops! thanks...