DES MOINES — Fifteen days after embarrassing Drake in Omaha, Creighton was the team that Wednesday night left the Knapp Center with red faces.
The Bulldogs, beaten by 30 on Jan. 8, built a 16-point halftime lead and turned back the 17th-ranked Bluejays' comeback attempt with clutch plays down the stretch in posting a 74-69 upset that was punctuated with Drake fans in the crowd of 6,162 storming the court in celebration.
“It was an effort thing, it was a concentration thing and it's unacceptable for us to come out and play like that especially coming off a loss,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “That's on me as a senior not having us ready to go.
“We're not good enough to just walk out there, and we know that. That was unacceptable by us.”
With All-American Doug McDermott stricken by the flu at halftime, Gibbs led the comeback that saw Creighton take a 62-61 lead when McDermott scored his only basket of the second half with 7:10 to play.
Drake, which also lost its last game by 30 to Northern Iowa, refused to fold. The Bulldogs regained the lead, then held it through the frenetic closing seconds of their biggest win in an up-and-down 9-10 season.
“We've always believed that we could be a good team,” said Drake forward Ben Simons, whose steal with two seconds to play sealed the win. “We just had to put it together. Even with that, we didn't play a good second half of basketball.
“But you have to give Creighton a lot of credit for that. We knew they were going to come out and make a run, but we made enough plays down the stretch to get the win.”
The loss, which piggy-backed Creighton's 67-64 setback to Wichita State on Saturday, left the Bluejays 17-3. It also dropped them into second place in the Missouri Valley at 6-3, a game behind the Shockers, who won at Missouri State.
The big turnaround will undoubtedly leave some Creighton fans remembering what happened to another highly ranked Bluejay team a decade ago.
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Creighton, which would end the 2002-03 season with a school-record 29 wins, defeated Evansville 93-56 on Jan. 15, 2003, in Omaha.
Eight days later, the Purple Aces pulled off a 74-66 upset of a Bluejay team that had celebrated its first Top 10 ranking ever the day before.
What made Wednesday's turn of fortunes even more dramatic, Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, is the performance in the first 20 minutes by a team that was coming off a loss.
“We slept-walked through some possessions, particularly on defense,” McDermott said. “Drake didn't do anything we didn't expect, but they executed and just picked us apart.”
The Bulldogs scored on their final nine possessions of the first half to take a 44-28 lead into the break. Drake scored the final 12 points of the half to finish off a 17-5 spurt in the final five minutes.
Doug McDermott scored 17 points before halftime, but his teammates added just 11 and missed 9 of 13 shots against a Drake defense they had riddled with 64 percent field-goal shooting in the first meeting.
Gibbs, scoreless in the first half, scored six points in the first 3½ minutes of the second half to jump-start Creighton's comeback. His 3-pointer with 12:57 to play got the Bluejays back within four and his basket 22 seconds later trimmed Drake's lead to 51-49.
“I just tried to be a little more aggressive than in the first half,” said Gibbs, who finished with a season-high 18 points. “I was taking what the defense gave us.”
Drake pushed its lead back to seven, but 3-point baskets by Ethan Wragge and Austin Chatman, the latter coming with 7:45 to play, pulled Creighton to within 61-60. After Drake's Daddy Ugbede missed a free throw, McDermott scored to give the Bluejays their only lead of the second half.
Back came the Bulldogs. They used three free throws to regain the lead after Creighton had tied the game at 64 and took a 71-66 lead when Richard Carter, who scored a game-high 20 points, made a pair of baskets.
His hard drive put Drake up 71-66 with 51 seconds to play. Creighton got back within two points on Gibbs' three-point play with 32 seconds remaining, and it got the ball back when Will Artino and Chatman doubled-teamed Simons in the backcourt.
Jahenns Manigat came up with the steal, giving Creighton a chance to tie or take the lead. That evaporated when Gibbs' shot after a drive to the basket bounced off the rim, with Carter grabbing the rebound.
“They switched ball screens, and we got Carter switched onto Doug,” Greg McDermott said. “I thought we missed him, but Grant had a bigger guy on him. Grant got an open lane to the basket and he missed a layup that was somewhat challenged.
“We'll take that shot in that situation and we must missed it.”
Carter put his team ahead by three points when he made the second of two free throws. Creighton pushed the ball up the court but didn't get a shot when Simons stepped in front of a Gibbs' pass for Wragge.
“After I had that turnover, my teammates told me that I was going to come back and make a big play,” Simons said. “It happened. I saw Wragge come off a flare (screen) knowing that they needed to take a 3.
“I jumped it and got the steal. I was confident that I was going to make the free throws after getting fouled, and it was a celebration from there.”
Simons' two free throws capped a 13-point night for the senior, while Ugbede, who averages 2.3 points and 1.5 rebounds, finished with 12 points and five rebounds.
Creighton, which came into the game leading the nation in 3-point baskets and percentage, made just five of its 21 shots from beyond the arc. The Bluejays got outrebounded 39-31, and Drake's bench outscored Creighton's reserves 43-14.
Fifteen days ago in Omaha, Creighton made 16 of 27 3-point shots, outrebounded the Bulldogs 40-22 and enjoyed a 45-31 edge in bench points.
“Our attention to detail and our effort on the backboards was not near where it needed to be,” Greg McDermott said. “Granted, we have some guys banged up and we've got some guys that are sick. But we have to be able to play through that, and tonight we were not able to do that.”
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