"Heck of a game, isn't it?"
The Greg McDermott-Doc Sadler friendship took a bizarre turn on Sunday afternoon at the CenturyLink Center.
With 9:14 left to play and Creighton up 46-45, the officials gathered at the scorer's table to look at the TV monitor and sort out a foul and technical foul that had just been called on Nebraska.
McDermott, the Bluejays' coach, was sitting on the table waiting. Then Sadler walked all the way down from his bench and sat next to Mac, who put his arm around Doc and asked him what he thought about the game so far.
It was actually pretty comical.
Referee Kelly Self apparently wasn't amused. He teed up Doc.
The next thing you knew, Creighton had hit five of six free throws and was up 51-45. And a heck of a game was on its way to being over.
Maybe the question should have been, "What's up, Doc?"
The Jays won 76-66, and the 16,561 on hand got their money's worth from the teams. But anyone who was there won't remember Bo Spencer's big shots, Doug McDermott owning the rim or Antoine Young's tightrope drives to the hoop. They'll remember Doc's meltdown.
It was ill-timed. It took a bad situation and made it worse. His Huskers had stormed back and looked like they were in this one for good. But then momentum went to nomentum.
In front of the biggest crowd the Huskers have played in front of this regular season, Doc got in the way.
And Doc was the first one to say it.
"I've got to apologize to my team,'' Sadler said afterward, before being asked about the sequence. "That loss is strictly on the guy you're looking at."
"I can't talk about it," Sadler said. "Or I'll get in trouble."
That would be from the wrath of Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. All Doc would add was that he had permission from an official to walk down and find out what was going on. And another official teed him up for being there.
Through sources who were around the scene, here's what apparently happened:
Grant Gibbs was fouled by NU's Christopher Niemann going up for a shot. The Huskers' Toney McCray protested and got a technical foul. Suddenly, the officials were at the TV monitor.
According to McDermott, the officials said a Nebraska player had complained about being fouled and they were checking the monitor to see if they'd missed a flagrant elbow. McDermott said his guy was the one who was fouled.
With Mac talking to the officials at the TV monitor, Doc wanted to see what was going on. That's natural. The officials shouldn't just huddle with one coach in that situation. Doc said a ref, apparently Mike Sanzere, told Doc he could go down and see what was up.
That's when Mac put his arm around Doc, in a moment of comic relief. But if Doc got the "T" because of that, then his old friend may have inadvertently gotten him in trouble.
Should Sadler normally have stayed back at his bench? Yes. But if he got permission, as he says he did, then he had the green light.
Whatever, it took the air out of Nebraska's comeback. And gave new life to the Jays, who played tight and were wobbly at that time.
"That whole technical deal kind of got us going," Doug McDermott said.
Creighton showed its versatility and depth, going inside when the Huskers shut off the perimeter jumpers. The Jays are 7-0 with wins over San Diego State and Nebraska that will look pretty good in March. Another biggie, against Northwestern, looms in two weeks.
It was too bad for Nebraska. The Huskers played well, especially on defense, and if they had had this kind of effort against Oregon and Wake Forest, they'd have two more wins today.
But that's the thing about this series, this game. Some people thought the Jays might blow out the Big Red. But you knew NU's defense would make it hard, and the Huskers would give a big effort after two tough losses.
Which is why I disagree with Sadler that Creighton needs this game more than Nebraska. If anything, he and his program need it more.
I understand what he's saying. He's talking from an RPI standpoint, that a win over a Missouri Valley team doesn't impact NU's NCAA chances. If and when that is ever a factor.
But the Huskers have enough RPI games in the Big Ten. What they desperately need here at home is someone to watch, someone to care. The Creighton game, especially in Omaha, is a big spotlight for Husker Hoops.
If the Huskers can look good, and win, it's the kind of marketing that could sway fans to come back and watch Husker Hoops again, when Bo Ryan, Tom Izzo and Tom Crean come to town.
There's no bigger stage for Doc than when he's getting fired up on the sideline at the CenturyLink Center, with thousands of his Creighton friends standing up and yelling at him. It's quite a show. It's a lot of fun.
Now some folks will start connecting dots, and say that Doc is on the hot seat for blowing this one. If this is Sadler's last year, and I would never assume what Tom Osborne would do, Sadler will be judged by how he does in conference games, when the Big Ten rolls around. And that might not be pretty unless Doc can find someone else besides Spencer to score.
Nebraska and Creighton coaches don't get fired over how they do against one another. This is a game that stirs interest in basketball. It's a game where a guy like Doc can get some attention.
Sometimes, the wrong kind.
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