EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Creighton coach Greg McDermott rubbed his eyes, looking for an answer as to why his team is suddenly struggling.
His son, Doug, is just as perplexed after a second straight sub-par shooting game.
Evansville’s Colt Ryan hit a 17-footer to break a 56-56 tie with 3:08 to play, and the 17th-ranked Bluejays blew a seven-point second-half lead in a 65-57 upset Tuesday night.
“We have to get ourselves right,” the Creighton coach said. “Look, every team in the country goes through stretches like this. Sometimes it’s in November, sometimes it’s in December. You hope it’s not in February, but that’s where we are right now and we’ve got to get it fixed.”
This certainly didn’t look like the same Bluejays who seemed so dominant just a week ago.
They came into Tuesday’s game with the nation’s No. 1 field goal percentage (51.2), the No. 1 3-point percentage (44.8) and a top 10 ranking in overall scoring (81.0 points per game).
But after shooting just 42.1 percent in a loss to Northern Iowa on Saturday that ended their 11-game winning streak, Creighton (21-4, 11-3 Missouri Valley Conference) was even worse against the Purple Aces.
It was a season-low 18.2 percent (4 of 22) from 3-point range, had a season-worst 57 possessions and made only 4 of 20 shots over the final 15:52.
Not surprisingly, the Bluejays have lost consecutive games for the first time all season.
“We had some good shots at the end of the game, but we just didn’t execute on offense,” Doug McDermott said after scoring 21 points. “We had some communication issues, too, but give them credit. They played hard.”
Evansville finally figured out how to close a game Tuesday night — with timely shooting and near perfect defense.
It was such a stunning turnaround for a team that had lost three of four that hundreds of students rushed the court in celebration.
“We had lost so many games because we were not listening,” said senior swingman Kenny Harris, who had 15 points. “Tonight, we just came out and paid attention to the details.”
For Evansville (12-12, 7-7), it was a remarkable turnaround.
The Aces had lost six times this season by three or fewer points and were coming an abysmal loss Saturday at Southern Illinois. By playing one of their best defensive games this season, Evansville ended a six-game losing streak to Creighton, ended a stretch of three losses in four days and got its second Top 25 upset in two seasons. Evansville beat No. 23 Butler last season.
It wasn’t a perfect game for Evansville.
Ryan finished with 14 points on 3-of-12 shooting, none from 3-point range. Ryan Sewell had 12 points and seven rebounds, and there were the two stretches where Creighton looked like, well, its usually strong shooting self.
But Evansville coach Marty Simmons couldn’t quibble with the results.
“Our execution could have been better, but I’m not sure our effort could have been,” Simmons said. “I thought we made a lot of plays out there with extra effort and that’s what it takes to win.”
After a 12-4 first-half run left Creighton in a 31-21 hole with 3:27 to play, the Bluejays closed the half on a 10-2 run and had a chance to take the lead with a 60-foot heave that fell short.
They finally took the lead when McDermott knocked down a 5-footer early in the second half and used a 6-0 run to make it 48-41.
Then the Aces cranked up the pressure.
They scored five straight points to stay close and tied it at 50 when Ned Cox picked off a rebound and drove in for a layup with 8:18 left.
Creighton rebuilt a 56-52 lead with 5:23 to go, but the Aces had an answer for that, too.
“Something just wasn’t there tonight.” Doug McDermott said. “There were times we got stops and we couldn’t do anything with it. It was frustrating.”