There were many new looks on display Sunday evening, as Creighton hosted Nebraska in the annual, in-state rivalry game, but the results remained in CU's favor.
The Bluejays, wearing alternate grey uniforms for the first time, shucked the Big Red, donning new black uniforms, by an 82-67 final score. Billy the Bluejay led Creighton out of the tunnel, sporting a refreshed look, and the Jays channeled that energy into a hot start that buried Nebraska.
Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott started together for the first time this season, and the different lineup seemed to give Tim Miles' squad problems in his first game at Creighton. Two early threes from the two-time All-American and a triple from Wragge helped CU open a 13-2 lead, and the Jays didn't look back.
"We were late on catches on just Doug and Wragge," said Miles. "When you're late on those two guys, you're going to pay the price. "
The Huskers did pay as a result. CU expanded its lead to as many as 32 points in the opening half. While the Huskers were far from perfect, allowing McDermott and Wragge to combine for five 3-pointers in the opening half. McDermott scored 17 of his game-high 33 points in the first half, and Wragge added 10 of his 16 in the opening period. Creighton's coach was more than pleased with the way his team started the game.
"We can't play much better than we played to start the game," said McDermott.
The lopsided start reminded Nebraska's second-year head coach of a different brand of basketball.
"When it's 30-8, or whatever it was, you're looking up there like ‘Wow!,'" Miles stated after game. "My son is a nine-year-old, and I see games like that on occasion, but you don't expect to see it in college basketball.
Following consecutive disappointing losses in the Wooden Classic, Coach McDermott decided to start the game with his five best players on the floor, which meant Wragge moving in and junior Will Artino moving out of the first five. Having two elite 3-point shooters on the floor at the same time stretches opposing defenses thin. Coach McDermott believes that the space opened by forcing opposing big men to guard the three point line is what is allowing Grant Gibbs to attack unoccupied lanes. Gibbs has three dunks in two games, which is unusually high for the injury-riddled, sixth-year senior.
The move to the bench hasn't necessarily been a bad thing for Artino, either. In 16 minutes against Long Beach State, the junior hit five of seven shots, scoring 13 points and adding three rebounds. He effective as a reserve in a different way Sunday, finishing with seven rebounds and four points on two of four shooting.
"He's certainly given us a lift both times," said Creighton's fourth-year head coach. "It's a different mindset, and I don't know that his rebounds… well, I do know for sure that the two games he's come off the bench, he's rebounded much better than the games he's started."
According to the coach's son, the perceived demotion hasn't bothered the 6-foot-11 center.
"I think Will, he just plays better off the bench," said the BIG EAST Player of the Week. "He's been talking to me. I've talked to him a lot about it, and he's fine with it."
Although the Huskers headed to intermission trailing 51-26, the Big Ten visitors played a much-improved second half, outscoring the hosts 42-31. Although they closed well, the first-half performance made it hard to feel good about anything the Cornhuskers did.
"You can look at it as we were down by 30, maybe they're not as amped up. I mean, I just think they outplayed us in the first half," said Shavon Shields who led NU with 22 points. "In the second half, we had to play catch up. That's how we got on the attack, which is kind of embarrassing, but, sure, we can say that that's a positive."
The Huskers used a barrage of dunks from Shields and Terran Petteway, who scored 21 points, as Creighton took its foot off the accelerator. While Shields and Petteway hurt the Jays with their inside-out ability, the Bluejays made sure not to let another Husker beat them. The Bluejays staff saw Ray Gallegos as the one guy they couldn't let get free from deep. The attention on Gallegos paid off as he hit just one of four attempts in 23 minutes of play. His ineffectiveness led his coach to look elsewhere to rarely used freshman Nathan Hawkins.
"Ray wasn't having much impact on the game. They were denying him and it just seemed like every time we tried to run something for him, they had him locked up, bottled up," said Miles. "So, I thought, ‘Well, let's put somebody they've never heard of in."
Creighton led 81-64 with just over 90 seconds left to play. Many fans already headed to their cars on the cold, snowy evening, but the remaining fans saw the game's most dramatic moment. Following a Gibbs block on a Petteway layup, both teams struggled to gain possession of the loose ball. Gibbs and Petteway got tangled up in the scrap and tempers flared. Petteway pushed Gibbs off of him as whistles sounded. After the officials reviewed the play on courtside monitors, both players were ejected.
"Just diving for the ball and kind of got tangled up," Gibbs said downplaying the incident. "It happens. It's basketball."
The scuffle was not deemed a fight, and therefore both players are expected to be available for their next game. For Creighton, that's next Tuesday when they will host Arkansas-Pine Bluff. While contest with Lions probably wont warrant alternative uniforms, Creighton fans might see the grey jerseys again since the team played well in them.
"I like them a lot," said Doug McDermott. "I think we should stick with them."
"There's a chance we'll see them again now," Coach McDermott joked.
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