• Box Score
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Creighton showed some rarely seen character in crunch time Sunday to pull out what might have been a must win in early January.
The Bluejays had let Evansville turn a 12-point halftime deficit into a two-point lead with 7½ minutes to play. Instead of folding, as it has in several of its losses, Creighton made some big shots and big plays to claim a 72-64 victory for its first Missouri Valley Conference win before 4,758 fans at Roberts Stadium.
“Coach is always talking about how character is determined by how you handle adversity,'' Creighton center Kenny Lawson said. “We haven't always handled it well this season.
“Today, we toughened up and found a way.''
Lawson provided much of the direction, scoring five of his 18 points to spark a 12-4 closing run. The 6-foot-9 junior also had 11 rebounds, blocked a career-high seven shots and changed the flight plan of countless others.
“Lawson is a big guy inside, real long,'' Evansville guard Colt Ryan said. “He's a good shot blocker, and he waits for you to go up and he alters a lot of shots.''
It was Ryan who sparked the Purple Aces' second-half run, scoring 11 of his career-high 26 points in a 17-2 surge that put Evansville ahead 58-56 with 7:36 to play. The 6-foot-5 freshman made back-to-back 3-pointers to push his team in front, and at that point, no one could have blamed the Bluejays for thinking, “Here we go again.''
They've surrendered second-half leads in losses to Dayton, Michigan, Iona, George Mason, New Mexico and Northern Iowa.
“For a second, that crosses your mind,'' Creighton forward Justin Carter said. “Everything was falling for them, and we knew they were going to make a run. We took a timeout, and we told ourselves that we needed to respond to their run.''
Carter supplied the initial answer, scoring on a drive and making two free throws for a 60-60 tie with 6:36 remaining. The Bluejays came up with two stops on the defensive end before Lawson put them back ahead for good with a three-point play with 4:57 left.
He rebounded Evansville's next missed shot, then blocked another on the following possession before making a short jumper for a five-point lead. Denver Holmes' basket got Evansville back within three points, but P'Allen Stinnett buried a 3-point shot from the corner — his only field goal of the game — to push Creighton's lead to 68-62 with 2:59 to play.
The Bluejays finished off the win by making 4 of 6 free throws in the final 40.6 seconds to improve to 6-8 overall and 1-2 in the Valley. Evansville dropped to 0-3 in the league and 6-7 overall.
“We were a couple of teams that both needed a win,'' Creighton coach Dana Altman said. “Fortunately, we got it.''
Altman usually isn't one to make too much of the stakes that rest on any individual game. But even he couldn't hide his feelings about the value of this victory to a team that was trying to avoid its first 0-3 start in conference play since the 1993-94 season.
“Oh, man, we've struggled so badly,'' Altman said. “I think we're a better team than we've played, but at some point, you have to win a game. We've lost a number of games from free-throw shooting down the stretch.
“At some point, you have to get a little bounce in your step, and we haven't had one for a month. Yeah, we probably needed that one.''
Senior guard Cavel Witter agreed.
“This was a huge win, especially after they had come back and taken the lead,'' he said. “But we were able to stay together and fight as a team. That makes it really big.''
Witter finished with 12 points, while Carter, who was questionable to play after injuring his foot late in Friday's loss at Indiana State, finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Ryan made 8 of 16 shots in his career-high scoring performance, including 6 of 11 from beyond the arc. Evansville had come into Sunday's game averaging just 3.8 3-pointers per game but finished 9 of 22 against the Bluejays.
“Ryan hit some really tough shots,'' Altman said. “We got him going by letting him hit some easy ones, but he knew what he wanted to do and jumped up and knocked them down.''
Creighton led 44-32 at halftime, thanks partly to a 6-for-11 start from beyond the arc. The Bluejays missed 11 of 12 3-pointers in the second half and went 11 of 20 from the free-throw line. That kind of shooting normally has sent this team reeling toward defeat but not Sunday.
“This was a big step,'' Carter said. “We didn't get down on ourselves, and we stuck with it. This was a must win, a big win, and hopefully it gets us back physically and mentally.''
At Evansville................32 32—64
A — 4,758. Officials — Mike Stuart, Tom Eades, Don Dailey.
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