Published Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 10:07 pm
basketball
Chatelain: Bluejays and their revelers savor a party that has just begun

Leave it to Neil Diamond to put in perspective the end of a year — and the beginning of an era.

At a TV timeout with 11:33 left, the CenturyLink Center speakers blasted Neil's biggest hit. It's an oldie but a goodie, and thousands of drunken New Year's Eve partiers across America surely belted the lyrics Tuesday night.

But Creighton put its own spin on the experience. When play resumed before a Fox Sports 1 audience, the speakers went quiet. And Bluejay fans kept singing.

“Sweet Caroline! Ah, ah, ah. Good times never seemed so good. So good. So good. So good.”

If Bluejay fans harbored any reservations about this monumental move, they disappeared in a cloud of confetti. Doug McDermott played like a two-time All-American. Creighton's supporting cast stepped up. The outcome was never in doubt.

Creighton is 1-0 in the Big East Conference. And basketball in Omaha has never felt better.

10, 9, 8 ...

Students entered the CenturyLink Center lobby at 12:30 p.m., carrying sleeping bags and board games. Almost nine hours of waiting before tip-off? That's nothin'. Creighton had waited decades for an opportunity to rub elbows with programs that own national championship trophies.

On Valentine's Day 1996, when Creighton last hosted Marquette before a crowd of 6,053 at Civic Auditorium, the notion of CU playing in the Big East would've gotten you laughed out of every bar in New York City. Then Dana Altman started going to NCAA tournaments. Then Creighton moved into one of the country's best facilities. Then Altman left and the McDermotts moved to town and Doug developed into the nation's best offensive weapon.

Now the Jays aren't just up-and-comers trying to prove themselves to Georgetown and St. John's. They have a chance to win the league in year one.

Which is why those students in the lobby took a winter break detour. Jumped in cars Monday afternoon and returned to Omaha from Minnesota and Illinois and Missouri. Even California.

Senior Nick Marani lives in San Francisco. “The second they announced we were playing on New Year's Eve, all my plans went out the window,” he said. He skipped the beach — and his birthday party with his parents — to fly back early.

“They told me, we're only buying you one ticket. I said, make it for Dec. 30.”

Classes don't start until Jan. 15. He'll find something to do.

7, 6, 5 ...

It's only a New Year's Eve party if Dick Clark makes an appearance.

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Sure enough, when Creighton took the floor just before tip-off, a massive cutout of Clark's smiling face was popping out of the student section. Next to Marani's cutout of Doug McDermott, of course.

Fifteen seconds into the game, McDermott buried a 23-footer from the top of the key and the roof nearly blew off.

It wasn't always pretty. Seventeen of Creighton's first 20 shots were 3s — the Jays missed 11 of them. But the Jays flustered Marquette — and frustrated Buzz Williams, who looked like he wanted to rip off his bow tie every time Ethan Wragge dropped a bomb.

Creighton still plays like an elite mid-major, preferring small lineups and 3-pointers to Marquette's bruising style. But this is basketball, not football. And it pays to hit shots, something Creighton does better than anyone in the Big East.

The Jays may have another advantage on their new rivals — the Omaha crowd.

“This is going to be the standard for the Big East,” said former CU coach Tony Barone, who was honored at halftime. “This enthusiasm, this type of crowd will be as good as it gets in this league. These fans will make a difference.”

4, 3, 2, 1 ...

The final showdown last March against Wichita State suddenly feels like a decade ago.

Blowing out Marquette on New Year's Eve isn't as good as beating the Shockers for the last Valley title. But what made this night so much fun was the reality that Creighton fans get to do it again on Jan. 12, when Xavier comes to town. And again Jan. 14, when Butler comes in. And again Jan. 25 for Georgetown.

Rather than two or three home games each conference season that get the juices flowing, there will be six or seven. Creighton will have to play with the same type of intensity it showed Tuesday night. It won't be easy. But that's the fun of it. Pushing yourself to places you didn't have to go in the past.

At 10:59 p.m., more than 1,200 miles away, “Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve” was reaching its crescendo in Times Square. The ball dropped. And the crowd counted. And a new year began in most of the Big East Conference.

In Omaha, Creighton fans didn't notice. There were two minutes left on the game clock. And as good as the future looks — so good, so good, so good — they were savoring Dec. 31, 2013, as long as possible.

* * *

>> Video: See Fox Sports highlights from Creighton's 67-49 win over Marquette:



>> Video: See more highlights from the game:



>> Video: See the postgame press conference with CU coach Greg McDermott, Doug McDermott and Jahenns Manigat:

Contact the writer: Dirk Chatelain

dirk.chatelain@owh.com    |   402-649-1461    |  

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments.

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