Conference play is a beast. Season after season, somewhere along the way you'll see a score that just makes you scratch your head and ask 'How did they lose to them?' In the Missouri Valley, Evansville has played the role of spoiler on a few occasions, knocking off nationally-ranked conference foes at home. These Creighton Bluejays came in ranked #15 in the land, with a national player of the year candidate in Doug McDermontt. Twice before Creighton came to town ranked in the past decade and headed back to Omaha with a loss. In more recent times, before the college basketball landscape saw the Jayhawks get Farokhmanesh'd, one of the many in the long line of NCAA Tournament RLU's suffered by Kansas in the past few seasons, Evansville knocked off those same nationally ranked Panthers who won the MVC that season.
Both teams came into the game looking to forget the last outing. Creighton fell at Northern Iowa on a buzzer beating 3, while Evansville never led in their one point loss at Southern Illinois. Early on, it was evident that Evansville was concerned about the inside game, not only in McDermott, but also in the 6-9 Gregory Echenique, both of whom would have a decided size/strength advantage against a smaller UE front line. As the teams traded baskets early, UE called on Lewis Jones off the bench. Jones is a bit unconventional, he's more of a slasher or undersized post man at 6-4, and Creighton backed off from the perimeter. Finding open space, he hit his first two three's of the season, sparking a run that gave Evansville a ten point advantage 29-19 with just over 5:00 to play in the first half. Creighton answered, at although Evansville retained a two point halftime lead, it felt like the tide was turning towards more Bluejay domination in the second half.
Creighton pounded it inside to build up a lead as large as 7 midway through but Evansville has shown a resilience all season long to keep coming back. They countered with seven straight of their own and continued to match Creighton's mini-runs with one of their own. Slowly but surely, the buzz from the home crowd shifted to more of a feeling that the longer they hang around, the better the chance might be for another upset in Evansville. Evansville broke the tie with 3:00 minutes left on a Colt Ryan jumper and a pair of free throws by Kenny Harris. Creighton did their part, missing 3 of 4 from the line during this stretch. Creighton needed one stop with under a minute left to give them a chance, yet the same way they'd been out of synch all night (4-22 from deep), after playing good defense for 30 seconds or so, they committed a foul.
During the timeout that followed those two Evansville makes at the foul line to build the lead to five with under :30 to play, the anticipation began to build. More students, children, and others began to make their way towards the risers that sit behind the basket. The Ford Center also hosts hockey so there is a good deal of room in that area for both the band and the student section. The exudes began in earnest when Creighton missed and was forced to foul. All that was left now was for the final few ticks to run off the clock and for the court storming to commence.
Back in 2010, when last place Evansville knocked off a ranked Northern Iowa squad on Senior Night, the students came out on to the floor to celebrate, not an uncommon sight in college basketball. Typically you'd hear it called a rush or a storm but on that late February night, it was described nationally by the AP writer who covered the game as merely a trickle. Fast forward two seasons and it seemed everyone was trying to get in on it. The court was not entirely covered but progress is being made. Really that snapshot is what our game is all about. It is a way for communities to come together, rally around a school and a bunch of players and remember those great moments when every story can begin with a simple, 'Hey do you remember when.......?'
at EVANSVILLE 65, CREIGHTON 57 02/07/2012
CREIGHTON 21-4 (11-3) -- G. Gibbs 0-3 0-0 0; A. Young 4-9 1-4 9; D. McDermott 7-16 6-6 21; G. Echenique 4-4 2-3 10; J. Manigat 1-7 0-0 3; J. Jones 0-3 0-0 0; A. Chatman 4-6 2-2 11; E. Wragge 1-4 0-0 3; W. Artino 0-0 0-0 0; A. Dingman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-52 11-15 57. EVANSVILLE 12-12 (7-7) -- C. Ryan 3-12 8-9 14; D. Holmes 1-6 2-2 4; R. Sawvell 4-7 4-5 12; T. Taylor 1-3 0-0 2; N. Cox 4-8 0-0 8; L. Jones 3-6 1-2 9; K. Harris 6-9 2-2 15; R. Cesnulevicius 0-0 1-2 1; J. Moore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 18-22 65.
Three-point goals: CREI 4-22 (G. Gibbs 0-1; A. Young 0-2; J. Jones 0-3; E. Wragge 1-4; D. McDermott 1-4; J. Manigat 1-7; A. Chatman 1-1), EVAN 3-8 (D. Holmes 0-1; L. Jones 2-2; C. Ryan 0-2; N. Cox 0-2; K. Harris 1-1); Rebounds: CREI 34 (G. Echenique 8), EVAN 25 (R. Sawvell 7); Assists: CREI 14 (G. Gibbs 7), EVAN 14 (D. Holmes 3); Total Fouls -- CREI 20, EVAN 16; Fouled Out: CREI-None; EVAN-None.