CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Creighton's confidence has taken a beating during an eight-game stretch in which the Bluejays have lost five times after starting the season 17-1.
Still, neither Creighton coach Greg McDermott nor senior guard Grant Gibbs would blame a lack of confidence for the struggles down the stretch that contributed to Wednesday's 61-54 loss to Northern Iowa.
“I don't think Grant Gibbs' two turnovers had anything to do with a lack of confidence,” McDermott said. “I don't think us stepping up to the free-throw line and not making them has anything to do with a lack of confidence.
“We've made those free throws all year. This obviously was a tough environment, and we didn't execute enough with the game on the line.”
Creighton missed 6 of 10 free-throw attempts in the final 4:53 as the Panthers turned a five-point deficit into the seven-point win. Gibbs had two of the Bluejays' three turnovers during that stretch, coming on back-to-back possessions that helped Northern Iowa get back into the game.
Gibbs said he didn't sense any panic from his team, even as the Panthers were starting their decisive comeback. What frustrated Gibbs was that until their late collapse, the Bluejays had turned in the kind of performance that might have been the perfect tonic for what has been ailing them.
They were tough on the defensive end, especially in the second half when they held Northern Iowa to 11 points in the first 15 minutes. They rebounded by the ball. Even though they struggled offensively, they clawed their way back into a game and had a five-point lead with 5½ minutes to play.
“What's really disappointing is that we played well enough to win it until that last four minutes,” Gibbs said. “We were doing the tough things but we just couldn't finish it off.”
Free throw troubles
Creighton came into the game making three of every four free-throw attempts, both in nonconference and Missouri Valley play. The Bluejays were shooting 75.1 percent from the line overall and 74.9 percent in conference play.
Against the Panthers, Creighton made just 5 of 14 attempts. Six of the misses came at the game's most critical time.
“What you want to do in that situation when the game is on the line is to attack and get to the free-throw line,” McDermott said. “We got to the free-throw line on five possessions for two shots, and we came out of it with four points.
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“Our guys did the right things but we just didn't step up and make free throws. Over the test of time, we've shot them well and I'd like to think we can get back to that point. If not, we're in a world of hurt.”
Panthers clamp down
The McDermotts — Greg and star forward Doug — remain 0-for at the McLeod Center since coming to Creighton.
Wednesday's loss is the third straight here for the Bluejays' father-son combo. Doug McDermott led Creighton with 15 points Wednesday but scored just one free throw in the second half until getting the game's last basket with a dunk.
McDermott finished 6 of 10 from the field but got only three shots in the final 20 minutes.
“They did a really good job of switching screens with me and brought an extra defender every time I put it on the floor in the post,” he said. “You have to give them a lot of credit. We made the pay a little in the first couple minutes of the second half but they adjusted to it.
“They really made it tough for me to get the ball.”
McDermott's two assists both came at the start of the second half as he found Nevin Johnson and Gibbs for open 3-pointers. The two 3s started Creighton on a 23-8 run that saw the Bluejays turn a 10-point deficit into a five-point lead.
“Northern Iowa clogged it up inside and came after Gregory (Echenique) and Doug,” Greg McDermott said. “When they did that, it left some things open on the perimeter. I really thought that got us back into the game.”
Echenique scored 11 points for the Bluejays, while Gibbs had 14 on 6 of 12 shooting.
“Our guys were very active defensively tonight,” said Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, whose team limited the nation's best shooting squad to 43.8 percent. “We had more guys covering two or three things than we've had in the past.
“Our guys would double and then recover or help out underneath. We asked a lot of them. If you just try to take one thing away from Creighton, they're going to find ways to beat you.”
Bits and pieces
» Gibbs had five assists to move into fifth place on Creighton's all-time assists chart. He now has 324 in his two seasons, one more than Nate Funk.
» Even though Northern Iowa was outrebounded by four, the Panthers managed to finish with a 9-1 edge in second-chance points. Northern Iowa also owned a 19-8 advantage in points off turnovers.
» McDermott's 15 points give him 1,980 for his career. He stands three points behind Chad Gallagher, third on the Bluejays' career scoring chart with 1,983.
— Steven Pivovar