CAIRNS, Australia — Creighton, sparked by its 3-point shooting, pulled itself out of a 29-point hole and earned an 89-85 comeback win over the Cairns Taipans on Thursday.
The Bluejays outscored their opponent 31-11 in the third quarter, pulling within one point at the start of the final 10-minute period. They completed the rally from there.
Junior Damien Jefferson’s fast-break dunk put CU in front 76-75 with 6:36 left — the Jays’ first lead of the game.
Cairns answered down the stretch, but Creighton produced several important buckets to secure the victory. Sophomore Christian Bishop’s close-range shot in the paint gave his team an 80-79 lead at the 4:02 mark. Freshman Jalen Windham nailed a 3-pointer the next time down. And on back-to-back trips under two minutes, Jefferson made a floater and Bishop converted another field goal, extending the Jays’ edge to 87-82 with 1:04 remaining.
CU closed out the win from there to move to 1-1 on its Australian tour.
“We grew a lot as a team as a result of this game,” coach Greg McDermott said during a video interview on Creighton’s website.
Things certainly did not start well for Creighton. It fell behind 7-0 after two minutes. Cairns ended the first quarter on an 18-5 run and pushed its advantage to 29 points late in the second quarter.
The Bluejays, who shot 1 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half, had to sort some things out at the break, McDermott said.
“We really got away from who we are in the first half,” he said. “I thought guys were trying to make plays for themselves instead of other people. Defensively, we weren’t on the same page with our communication — we were quick to assess blame anywhere else but ourselves.
“We talked about it at halftime. And to the guys’ credit, they corrected it.”
Junior Mitch Ballock, who finished with 14 points, helped spark the rally by making 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions. That cut CU’s deficit to 19. Two more 3-pointers from Ballock and senior Davion Mintz soon followed, making it a 13-point game.
Perhaps the biggest momentum switch took place over the final 60 seconds of the third — the Jays ended the period with a 10-0 run.
Jefferson hit a bucket. Freshman Shereef Mitchell picked up a steal and converted two free throws. Junior Ty-Shon Alexander drained a 3-pointer. And Jefferson hit another 3 to cut Cairns’ lead to 68-67. CU did enough to win after that.
Mintz, whose two free throws with 27 seconds left sealed the victory, led his team with 18 points. He added four rebounds and five assists. Jefferson had 17 points and Bishop scored 14.
Thursday was the first game in Australia for Alexander, who spent past week competing at the Pan American Games — he missed CU’s 79-66 loss to the Australian Basketball Centre of Excellence on Monday. Alexander scored 10 points in 23 minutes Thursday.
Three additional notes from Thursday’s box score are below:
» How good is Cairns? The Taipans compete in Australia’s top-tier basketball league, the NBL. But their roster for Thursday’s exhibition included just four active NBL players. This version of the squad beat the WAC’s Cal Baptist 85-76 in an exhibition one day earlier.
Still, they did have former NBA player and 32-year-old veteran Nathan Jawai, who’s listed at 6-foot-10, 309 pounds. He had 17 points Thursday. And then there was former TCU star Kouat Noi — the 6-foot-7 wing torched CU for 25 points in an NIT game last season and dominated the Bluejays Thursday, finishing with 26.
» If Thursday’s contest wasn’t an exhibition game, Bishop would have fouled out in the third quarter. He picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in the first two minutes of the second half. But he is Creighton’s only available scholarship big man on this trip. And Bishop on Thursday had to contend with Jawai, who played one season each with the Toronto Raptors and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
So it was agreed that Bishop didn’t have to worry about fouling out. The box score indicated that he finished with eight fouls. Given that centers Jacob Epperson and Kelvin Jones are sidelined with injuries, Bishop’s presence was vital for Creighton, especially after halftime. He scored eight points and picked up four rebounds in 16 second-half minutes.
» It's August, yes. But already it’s apparent that a key to the 2019-20 season will be Creighton’s turnover rate. CU turned the ball over on 18.6% of its possessions last year, ranking 183rd nationally — which isn’t ideal, especially for a guard-oriented squad. One would presume that increased in-game experience will help the Jays make better decisions. But we’ll see.
On Thursday, it was notable that Creighton turned the ball over just 11 times on 88 possessions. CU held a 32-6 edge in points off turnovers against Cairns.