The third-largest crowd in Creighton basketball history witnessed, and fueled, the Bluejays to the program's first BIG EAST win in a 67-49 win over visiting Marquette.
Doug McDermott gave the packed house something cheer about early, as he opened the scoring with a 3-pointer 15 seconds into the action. A little more than seven minutes later, a triple from Devin Brooks moved the score to 18-6 in favor of the home team. Although McDermott topped all scorers with 19 points and added seven rebounds, while Jahenns Manigat added 16 points, six boards and a game-high six assists, the 18,525 people in attendance played an important role as well. McDermott believes the hot start and the crowd's energy charged Creighton on its big night.
"It's a great way to get things started," said the pre-season BIG EAST Player of the Year. "The crowd was unbelievable right from the get go. Those first couple shots fell and, you know, I thought that really gave our team a lot of energy and kind of just carried on throughout the rest of the game."
The Golden Eagles rallied and narrowed the margin to six with 6:48 left in the opening half after back-to-back jumpers from Jamil Wilson. The Jays responded to the surge and expanded the lead back to double figures after a Manigat triple. The Bluejays' starting shooting guard hit another three, his second of four on the night, with 1:27 left, which was the final score of the opening period, and the Jays jogged to the locker room with a 37-24 advantage.
The celebration continued at halftime. Former coaches Tom Apke, Tony Barone and Eddie Sutton were joined by Reva Altman, wife of Dana Altman, and Mary Jean McManus, wife of the late John "Red" McManus, were honored on the CenturyLink Center court at intermission. Even though he couldn't take in the ceremony, Coach McDermott was glad to have such important members of Creighton basketball history on hand for the momentous evening.
"I wasn't out there for halftime, obviously, but I think it was very appropriate that we thank those that put us on the map and got us to where we are today" said the Bluejays' coach.
The Bluejays maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half, but Buzz Williams' squad got within 10 with 15:26 remaining. When Austin Chatman was relegated to the bench after picking up his third foul just minutes into half two, Coach McDermott sensed trouble.
"As I said, it was great to get an unbelievable lift off the bench from Will (Artino) and Devin," said Coach Mac. "We were dead in the water when Austin got his third foul with whatever, 16 minutes left in the game, and the game is still a 10-point game."
With Grant Gibbs joining Chatman on the bench minutes later, having also picked up his third personal, the Bluejays turned to a first-year junior college player. Brooks, one of Creighton's few options left at point guard, answered the call by scoring six straight. Manigat assisted Brooks's final two layups, and the junior returned the favor on CU's next possession, hitting the "Canadian Red Bull" for his third trifecta of the night, putting the Jays up 19.
"He's learned so much from the time that he's been here about where the guys are, who he is playing around, and he doesn't necessarily feel like he has to go out there and do it all on his own anymore," said Manigat. "He understands who he is playing with and he did a really good job of finding guys and, in return, I found him for a dump-down pass. He made that layup and that got him fired up. So, I thought he brought a lot of energy, certainly made the good plays to start the second half, and we definitely fed off of his energy as well."
Brooks and Manigat's play had the crowd so fired up that after Manigat's triple went down, Marquette was forced to call a timeout. Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" was played during the ensuing stoppage, but when the song was cut off and play resumed, the standing-room-only crowd carried the tune as the Golden Eagles restarted play. The crowd didn't stop singing until it switched to more conventional form of cheering when Brooks stole the ball.
The Golden Eagles calmed the crowd by surging on a 9-0 run following the sing-a-long, but the Jays' defense was strong enough to limit MU to 25 points or less in both halves. According to Doug McDermott, the Bluejays received a defensive boost from the people that were not seated on the bench.
"We really fed off that crowd," said the Bluejays' two-time All-American. "You know, that's what we need for every game. Now we only have eight games left here together, so it'd be awesome to have atmospheres like that the rest of the way. When we get the crowd going like that, it just makes it so much easier to defend and just have so much energy out there. It makes a huge a difference for us, so I want to thank all those 18,525 that came out."
If the New Year's Eve crowd can be replicated throughout the Jays eight remaining home games, Buzz Williams thinks Omaha will be a challenging place to escape with a win.
"I thought it was an unbelievable atmosphere," said the Golden Eagles coach. "They were excited. I think our guys were excited. I think that the teams, in any league, that win on the road have a chance to win the league, and I think it will be incredibly hard for teams to win here. And I think the atmosphere, their players, the staff, their support, is superb."
With the raucous start to the next chapter in Bluejay hoops' history behind them, the Jays will have to make do without the thousands of fans in blue. If the Jays hope to leave traditional BIG EAST territory with a win in their first conference road game, they'll have to defeat Seton Hall, who upended Providence in double overtime Tuesday. Coach McDermott isn't concerned with his team taking a step back, but the Pirates cause some uneasiness.
"I don't think there will be a letdown," said Coach McDermott. "I'm just worried that Seton Hall is a pretty good basketball team. They haven't really been healthy the entire year. They've had guys missing and (Gene) Teague didn't play today and they go in to Providence and win in overtime. They're a very talented basketball team."
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