End of 9-game losing streak rare bright spot for Creighton
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Devin Brooks and James Milliken jumped around together in an embrace at midcourt after the final buzzer. A few minutes later Brooks was in the locker room performing the dance he does after every victory to delight of his teammates.
Brooks had gone 41 days without doing his Bluejay boogie. A 77-74 victory over St. John’s on Wednesday night won’t save what’s become a lost season for Creighton, but it merited a celebration.
The nine-game losing streak matching the longest in the 99 seasons basketball has been played at the 6,000-student Jesuit school is over.
”This last whatever it’s been – it seems like an eternity – has been hard on the fans, it’s been hard on the coaching staff,” coach Greg McDermott said. ”But that doesn’t compare to what it does to our players.”
After 22 games last season, Creighton was 19-3 overall, in first place in the Big East at 9-1 and ranked No. 12. And Doug McDermott was on his way to becoming a three-time first-team All-American and the 2014 national player of the year.
After Wednesday’s win, the Bluejays are 10-12 overall, in last place in the Big East at 1-8 and likely will have no one on the All-Big East first or second teams.
Their minus-9 win differential is tied with Delaware and Southern Mississippi for worst in the nation, according to STATS.
Creighton’s inaugural season in the Big East was better than anyone could have imagined. It coincided with the Bluejays having the best player in program history in Doug McDermott and arguably the most talented senior class.
Year 2 in the Big East has exposed Creighton. The Bluejays lack the strength and athleticism to be competitive night in and night out.
Obviously, Greg McDermott knew the departures of his son and the three other seniors would leave his team vulnerable to a drop-off. He couldn’t have imagined it would have been so severe.
He said he’s never had to endure as rough a patch in his 21 years as a head coach.
”It’s hard because it’s your responsibility to try to find ways to put kids in a better position to win games,” he said. ”When you’re having a good season, you don’t have to coach that much, you don’t have to think that much. You have to stay out of their way and tweak a thing here or there.
”When you’re struggling, you constantly have to come up with new ideas and new motivational techniques to keep them positive. That’s a drain. But it’s all worth it when you see the smiles on their faces after the game today.”
Creighton has ranked in the top 25 nationally in attendance for eight years, and it was fifth last season at 17,896. Full houses were the norm as the Bluejays rolled off 107 wins during Doug McDermott’s four seasons.
Fans have remained faithful through the team’s struggles.
”It’s a huge credit to our fans, who have enjoyed some really good times the last few years, for sticking with us when times are tough,” Greg McDermott said. ”That was fun out there tonight, and I think our fans deserved it. They willed us.”
Freshman Toby Hegner made four free throws in the last 12 seconds to hold off St. John’s, and Creighton won for the first time since it beat Texas-Pan American on Dec. 19.
Hegner, who scored 21 points, had a nasty cut on his left cheekbone but was no worse for the wear.
”We wanted this one for a long time,” he said. ”We hit the slump. We came to practice fighting every day, and we knew this day would come. Getting this win was refreshing. We have to go to work tomorrow.”
The Bluejays’ schedule gets no easier. No. 21 Georgetown visits on Saturday, and next week there are road games against Xavier and St. John’s.
Asked if beating the Red Storm alleviated pressure, McDermott said, ”For now.”