Creighton 84, Oregon 76

The home fans gave their old coach a warm welcome, and then

Creighton did its best to run Dana Altman’s Oregon Ducks out of the

building.

The Bluejays built big leads early in the first and second

halves, but they couldn’t put away the Ducks until the final minute

in an 84-76 victory Monday night in Game 1 of the College

Basketball Invitational championship series.

”The start of the game was phenomenal,” Creighton coach Greg

McDermott said. ”I’m not sure I’ve experienced anything like that.

It was electric in the arena. We came out clicking, and Oregon

wasn’t far behind us offensively.”

The Bluejays made nine of their first 10 shots and had a

double-digit lead 7 minutes into the game. The advantage was 17

points after Doug McDermott scored nine of his game-high 21 points

during a 12-0 run the first 4 minutes of the second half.

But Oregon wouldn’t go away, twice pulling within four points

late in the game.

Game 2 is Wednesday in Eugene, Ore., and a third game, if

necessary, would be played there Friday.

The Altman vs. Creighton subplot is adding spice to the CBI

finals.

He’s Creighton’s all-time winningest coach, with 327 victories

and seven NCAA tournament appearances in 16 years. He left the

6,000-student Jesuit school last April for a $1.7 million-a-year

offer from Oregon. The move came as a big surprise to his players

and Creighton fans.

In his first trip back to the Qwest Center – one he said he

dreaded – he got a warm reception from the CBI single-game record

crowd of 12,381. Fans on the floor rose and clapped as Altman

walked out of the tunnel to the court. He and his staff shook hands

with the Bluejays’ staff, and Altman got a quick hug from Greg

McDermott.

Altman again received long and loud ovation when his name was

announced during pregame introductions.

”Oh, I appreciated it,” Altman said. ”The people have always

been good to us – 16 years – really good to our family. It was

nice.”

Altman said he didn’t know what to expect when he walked into

the arena.

”I know a lot of people were disappointed in my decision to

leave,” he said. ”There were probably more people happy to see me

go. It was awkward.”

McDermott said he didn’t spend much time talking to his players

about their former coach.

”I think it was emotional for some of them, obviously, with

coach Altman coming back,” he said. ”I really appreciated the way

the fans treated Coach Altman. That’s exactly what he deserved.

Doug (McDermott) said it best, that we might not be playing in this

building if it’s not for coach Altman.”

The Ducks struggled against the bigger Creighton. The 6-foot-9,

270-pound Gregory Echenique had 15 points and blocked four shots,

and Josh Jones and Jahenns Manigat had 11 points apiece for the

Bluejays (23-14).

Joevan Catron led Oregon (19-18) with 15 points and nine

rebounds. Garrett Sim and Jay-R Strowbridge had 14 points apiece

and Johnathan Loyd and E.J. Singler 10 each for the Ducks.

”I just didn’t think we were very sharp,” Altman said. ”That

probably has a lot more to do with them than it had to do with us.

We were just a half-step slower tonight.”

Strowbridge finished a 16-5 spurt with a layup off a steal,

pulling Oregon within 63-57. The Ducks missed four of their next

five shots and committed a turnover, and the Bluejays were back in

front 70-59 after Kenny Lawson put back his own miss with a

dunk.

The Bluejays were up 79-72 before Strowbridge’s 3-pointer cut it

to four points with 1:30 left

Josh Jones’s 3-pointer made it 82-75 with 1:21 left. Oregon’s

E.J. Singler had a chance to get Oregon within four points, but

McDermott came up from behind to block his layup try with 40

seconds left, all but ending the Ducks’ comeback hopes.

”I might have gotten away with a foul there,” said Doug

McDermott, who has just four blocked shots in 37 games. ”I had to

do something to stop that play.”

Altman said the Ducks have to find a way to cope with

Creighton’s size advantage.

”We had trouble with Gregory all night,” he said. ”I don’t

know how we’re going to change things up. They’re not going to get

any smaller between now and Wednesday. We’ll have to try to do some

different things.”