Creighton escapes with win over ‘Bama
Josh Jones figured he owed his teammates one.
After missing two crucial free throws with 8.7 seconds left, the junior guard blocked a 3-point attempt by Trevor Releford on the other end of the floor to help Creighton end its 10-year NCAA tournament drought with a 58-57 victory over Alabama on Friday.
Doug McDermott had 16 points and 10 rebounds as the eighth-seeded Bluejays overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half and then held on to win despite missing three free throws in the final 32 seconds.
”It’s been 10 years since our last win, so that’s great for our great fans – an incredible feeling,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, father of the team’s star player. ”Here we beat Alabama at their own game. I would not have guessed that we could win a game (in the 50s). I thought we were going to need to be in the 70s and get the tempo in our favor the entire game.”
Creighton moves on to face North Carolina, the Midwest’s top seed, on Sunday.
Doug McDermott, the MVP of the Missouri Valley Conference and the nation’s third-leading scorer at 23.2 points per game, was held scoreless for more than 14 minutes but then scored nine points down the stretch.
He grabbed a huge rebound with 33 seconds left after teammate Greg Echenique missed the front end of a one-and-one. McDermott was fouled immediately and converted one of two shots to put the Bluejays (29-5) up by three.
Alabama answered with an inside basket from Andrew Steele to cut the lead to 58-57 and Jones missed two free throws on the other end.
Alabama brought the ball up the court, but Creighton used its last foul before the bonus to stop the clock at 4.7 seconds. The Crimson Tide inbounded the ball but then coach Anthony Grant called timeout with 2.4 seconds left after he noticed Creighton had switched to a zone.
”We had a man-to-man play on, so I tried to get a quick timeout to give our guys something to go with,” Grant said.
After the huddle, the Bluejays countered by showing man-to-man but then falling back into a zone. The inbounds went to Releford, who got the ball at the top of the key and made a move toward the basket before taking a step back to shoot the 3-pointer.
Jones got a hand in on the shot and the ball fell well short.
Releford sat on the court thinking he’d been fouled, but the call never came.
”I didn’t think it was a foul at all,” Jones said. ”I’m left-handed and I got in his shooting pocket on his right side and got the ball. Anybody would want to sell that shot. Anybody who is trying to get the last shot off – if it’s not perfect – they’re going to try to sell it. So you saw a good act.”
”I felt like I got hit, but at the end of the day it’s the ref’s call,” Releford said. ”And you’ve just got to live with it.”
Jones said he felt vindicated after the block.
”I felt like the win and loss was on me,” he said. ”I felt like I should have put us up by three and we shouldn’t have been in that situation. So that was important for me.”
Releford led No. 9 seed Alabama (21-12) with 14 points and Trevor Lacey added 13.
It was Creighton’s first tournament victory since Terrell Taylor drilled a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left in double overtime to lift the Bluejays to an upset win over Florida in 2002.
The Crimson Tide held Creighton without a field goal over the final 4:55 in the first half and closed with a 10-0 run to take a 30-23 lead into the locker room. Alabama pushed its lead to 11 early in the second half, but Creighton responded with a 12-1 run to pull even.
The Bluejays finally took the lead with 5:38 remaining when McDermott converted on an entry pass to the low post to put his team up 51-50.
Creighton shot 54 percent in the second half after shooting just 34 percent in the first half.
”You’ve got to stick with it,” said Echenique, who had 10 points. ”It was just a matter of not buying into their game. They press you a lot. They try to speed you up and try to make you do things you normally don’t do. I think we were prepared for it and we followed the game plan. We knew eventually the shots were going to fall down for us.”
The game pitted two teams with contrasting styles as Creighton came in with the seventh-highest scoring offense in the country while Alabama entered with the best defense in the Southeastern Conference.