Chicago, IL– The Creighton Bluejays entered Wintrust Arena on Thursday night needing to pick up a road win to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. Greg McDermott’s squad has been battling many injuries and setbacks and were playing tonight without two key contributors in big man Arthur Kaluma and veteran guard Shereef Mitchell. The DePaul Blue Demons were coming off a close home loss to the Butler Bulldogs and have been inconsistent throughout the season under first year head coach Tony Stubblefield. The Blue Demons put up a great effort and made things difficult for Creighton on the road, but the Bluejays were able to hold them off to secure another key win, defeating their Big East opponent 71-59.
DePaul got off to a rocky start from the floor, missing their first few jump shots and looking a little flat. They appeared to settle in after the first TV timeout and looked to push the pace off Creighton missed shots. Both teams would trade buckets throughout the first eight minutes of action and a Javon Freeman- Liberty one-handed jam ending in a 3-point play seemed to give DePaul a little momentum. Oregon transfer guard Jalen Terry made some good decisions in the pick and roll from this point on and figured out how to attack Creighton’s defense, helping his team jump out to their biggest lead of the game (23-15). Creighton was getting cold from the outside at this stretch of the first half, but it was important for McDermott and crew to keep their run and gun identity and push the pace down the court despite the poor shooting. Creighton tightened up defensively, making stops which then led to better shot selection on the offensive end of the court. The Bluejays were able to get senior forward Ryan Hawkins going and hit some crucial shots to allow his team to cut it within one in the final few minutes of the first half. Hawkins then hit a buzzer beating 3-pointer off balance to give the Bluejays a 33-31 advantage going into halftime.
Creighton opened the second half with a concerted effort to feed the post and get the offense going with some easy buckets from center Ryan Kalkbrenner. The big man drew two consecutive fouls on jumpshots and it was clear that they wanted to utilize their size. At the 16:00 minute mark, the Bluejays gained some momentum and confidence from back-back possessions with dunks. Ryan Nembhard went down in transition with an explosive dunk and then Kalkbrenner brought down a lob pass for a two-hand slam. The two plays got the Creighton fan base in attendance fired up and looked to put them into more of a rhythm offensively. The Bluejays then took a seven-point lead into the 12:00 minute mark and extended their lead to 50-39 when Hawkins connected on a corner 3-pointer. DePaul still had some fight left in them and made consecutive three-pointers from Terry and Courvoisier McCauley, which trimmed their deficit down to five (52-47) with just under seven minutes remaining. From there, the experience factor kicked in on the Creighton side and they settled down and focused on working some clock in their halfcourt possessions. The Bluejays moved the ball well in the next few possessions and Hawkins showed that he had an inside game in addition to his perimeter shooting. The 6-9, 200-pound forward backed down his defender and connected on an and-one opportunity, giving Creighton more of a cushionn. The play of Hawkins translated to his teammates on the defensive end and Kalkbrenner displayed his length and created a wall against the DePaul frontcourt, making shot attempts challenging down low. Nembhard ultimately sealed the Creighton victory with two jump shots late in the shot clock on isolation plays. The freshman came up big in crunch time and the Bluejays picked up the 71-59 road win.
Creighton received nice production from their best players and were led by Hawkins who finished with a double-double (25 points, 11 rebounds) and shot efficiently from the floor, going 9-of-17. Nembhard wasn’t as efficient from 3-pont territory, but still had good numbers on the night, with 19 points and six assists. Kalkbrenner also contributed with a double-double of his own (12 points, 13 rebounds) and was a difference maker on the defensive interior. DePaul’s Terry had a solid night with 18 points. Freeman-Liberty picked up a double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds) but shot 4-of-22 from the field and seemed to force the issue for most of the evening.
Creighton (17-8, 9-5) has now won four consecutive games and will host Marquette on Sunday, looking for another signature win to boost their tournament resume. DePaul (12-13, 3-12) travels to New Jersey to face Seton Hall and look to snap a three game losing skid with a road win.