Creighton runs, presses to big win

Creighton used 21-6 run to close the first half with a flurry and never looked back, cruising to a comfortable 78-54 win against Missouri in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic on Tuesday night. Missouri will face Houston in the consolation game Wednesday afternoon, while the Bluejays have advanced to the championship and will face Ohio State.

KANSAS CITY -- In a game in which statistics sometimes defy logic, the numbers said it all in Missouri's matchup with Creighton on Tuesday night.

Take a look at the first-half numbers. From the field: Creighton 17-of-30; Missouri 10-of-27. Assists: Creighton 13; Missouri seven. From 3: Creighton 8-of-15; Missouri 1-of-9. And it didn't get any better in the second half.

While Creighton found open shots and prospered, Missouri struggled mightily on both counts. The Bluejays used a 21-6 run to end the first half before cruising to a dominating 78-54 win at Municipal Auditorium.

Missouri was outplayed in all facets of the game in the first half and did not show the effort needed to get back into the contest after the break. Creighton turned what was a pro-Missouri atmosphere into a boisterous Bluejay crowd by showing more fight, hustle and determination.

Of course, knocking down more shots didn't hurt the cause either.

"We didn't take that many bad shots, I don't think," coach Quin Snyder said. "There were a few of them, but we didn't make a whole lot either."

Missouri finished a frigid 16-of-50 from the field, causing sophomore forward Linas Kleiza to take it a step further

"We couldn't make anything," Kleiza said. "Shots were just not going in."

The Bluejays flattened the Tigers with a dominant run to close the first half. After holding a slim 23-21 lead at about the seven-minute mark, Creighton took over. Not surprisingly, much of the impact came from the outside. In the rest of the half, the Bluejays hit three 3-pointers and had countless easy looks in transition. Thanks to an aggressive three-quarter court trap defense, Creighton forced nine first-half Missouri turnovers.

"When we had the most success in the first half, it was attacking after we beat the press," Snyder said. "That was an emphasis. When shots aren't going, guys can get discouraged."

Missouri missed a golden opportunity when Creighton went ice cold to open the second half. But the Tigers were just as frosty; the two teams combined for just one basket -- a pull-up by Creighton's Nate Funk -- in the first five minutes of the half.

The Tigers had several good looks, but could not finish at the rim or on the exterior. Missouri did not score a point until the 14:43 mark -- earning a Bronx cheer from the disappointed crowd when senior swingman Jason Conley's free throw fell through -- and did not record a basket until 14:09, a transition score by Kleiza. Although driving to the basket more consistently and earning trips to the free throw line, the Tigers scored just four field goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half, stunting any chance for a rally.

Junior guard Jimmy McKinney said the Tigers need to become more multiple offensively.

"We gotta find another way to get open looks," McKinney said. "We can't just be content with shooting the 3-pointer."

After their slow start to the second half, Creighton lit it up. Johnny Mathies answered a scoreless first half by catching fire in the second, scoring 18 points in the period. Missouri did not show the same hustle or fire that it exhibited late in the game against Davidson and trailed by as many as 31 points.

Snyder pointed to defensive difficulties as the Tigers' most pressing problem.

"Communication's a big thing," he said. "We need leadership right now from our key players. Guys want to do it; we just need to be better obviously. We're learning on the run right now...

"We're not a very good team right now. We've got to get better; we have a lot of work to do."

Kleiza was the only Tiger to reach double digits, leading the team with 12 points. Funk led all scorers with 21.

Point blank: Sophomore point guard Spencer Laurie missed his reunion with former Kickapoo teammate Anthony Tolliver, watching the game in street clothes from the bench after suffering a high ankle sprain in practice Sunday. The injury is not considered serious, but Snyder said he did not think Laurie would be available against Houston on Wednesday.

Without Laurie, McKinney was pressed into occasional duty at point guard, but he missed significant time in the first half after picking up two quick fouls. He ran the point occasionally while the Tigers tried desperately to get back in the game, but he finished 0-of-3 from the field with zero points to go with seven rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes.

McKinney wasn't even the best player with his surname on the floor. Creighton's Tyler McKinney picked up an impressive eight assists in the first half on his way to 11 on the game. He also chipped in two points and two steals.

Tolliver started the game but struggled with foul trouble; he finished with five points and three rebounds in 10 minutes.

As one leaves…: Another returns. Tuesday night brought the long-awaited return of junior center Jeffrey Ferguson, who spent the last year in Canada with reported visa problems and missed the first three games of this season while serving a suspension for participating in an unsanctioned summer league.

Ferguson entered the game midway through the first half and scored his first basket in over a year and a half at 9:27. He finished with six points and two rebounds in 14 minutes.

Family reunion: After coming into the game with two points on the season, freshman forward Kalen Grimes made more of an impact against his brother's former school. Mike Grimes, a forward who graduated after last season, was in attendance and saw his younger brother score five points in 13 minutes. He also heard a few "Mike was better!" chants coming from a group of Creighton students in one end of the arena.

Grimes and junior center Kevin Young dominated the glass early in the first half before the offense focused on the outside shot and moved away from them. They combined to tally nine points and five offensive rebounds in the first half but chipped in just one point and three rebounds on the offensive glass in the second.

Buckeyes advance: Ohio State shot out to a commanding early lead and coasted to the finish line against Houston in the early game, earning a 78-61 win. Ivan Harris led the Buckeyes with 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting while Tony Stockman chipped in 18 points and three assists. Dwight Jones led Houston with 15 points on just 5-of-12 shooting.

Missouri will face the Cougars for the second time this season in the consolation game at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The championship game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. tip and will be broadcast live on College Sports TV.

Mike's musings: Let me take a moment to offer a few potential names for Missouri's shiny, but now nameless, new basketball arena. In no particular order: Pinkel Sports Arena, Hafer Dome, The House that Plagiarism Built, and my personal favorite, Roll Back Arena. Look for an official announcement to confirm that one of these names has been adopted soon. … Houston looked terrible in the first 15 minutes but rallied late in the game. They used an aggressive press that gave Ohio State problems and will likely show the Tigers the same look occasionally.

Laurie's absence hurt more than I ever would have expected before the season. The Tigers struggled with fouls throughout the game and could not manage any consistency offensively. Without a steady hand to run the offense, the Tigers look like the disorganized bunch that sunk the high hopes of last season. … Horton hasn't made the impact some thought he would; he is clearly still adjusting to the quicker pace of the college game. The Tigers finished with 16 turnovers to just 12 assists.

Prediction review: I called for another Missouri win; this team is making me look more inept by the day. After seeing them rally late against Davidson, I thought there would be a fire underneath the Tigers. We saw a little of that in the first five minutes, but the Tigers faded quickly when Creighton began to hit its open looks. Missouri must find more ways to score immediately when their outside shot isn't falling.

InsideMizzou will have complete coverage of tomorrow's game from courtside at Municipal Auditorium on Wednesday night. Be sure to check back for the most detailed look at the Tigers you will find anywhere.

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