ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The game had the feel of a shootout, exactly the style of play that seemed to best suit the small-ball Jays on the road against a taller and longer Michigan squad.
But Creighton hit a slump at exactly the wrong time — and the Wolverines never slowed down.
CU lost 79-69 Tuesday night at the Crisler Center, squandering a three-point halftime lead as it opened the second half just 6 of 20 from the field. By the time the Jays seemed to settle back in against a stretched-out Michigan defense, it was too late.
“That start of the second half, I really felt that if we could put an 8-2 run on them or something like that — take it to 10 points — then we might get them to get the deer-in-the-headlights look a little,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said during his postgame radio interview. “But they really pounced on us.”
Michigan (2-0) definitely was the aggressor out of the break, repeatedly attacking the heart of CU’s defense on dribble drives to flip the momentum of the game.
The Wolverines were so efficient during the first 11 minutes of the second half that they essentially eliminated Creighton’s transition game. The hosts turned the ball over just once. They missed seven shots during that span, but twice grabbed the offensive board.
The Jays (1-1) just weren’t able to keep up.
Guards Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock, who combined for 25 first-half points, got smothered. Midrange jumpers didn’t fall. Shots at the rim were altered by Michigan’s height. Alexander said he and his teammates rushed things a bit, particularly when they dribbled into the paint.
McDermott also theorized that Creighton’s guards wore down as the game unfolded — the depleted Jays relied on a seven-man rotation Tuesday.
“We had some decent looks at some midrange. We just didn’t make them,” McDermott said during his radio interview. “But we also had some disjointed offensive possessions. I’ll have to look at it — I think some of it’s fatigue. But it’s the hand we’re dealt right now, so we’ve got to do the best we can.”
Junior Damien Jefferson made his season debut and played 27 minutes, although he’s still hobbled by the foot injury that forced him to miss CU’s season opener last week.
Ballock didn’t leave the floor in the first half. Sophomore guard Marcus Zegarowski didn’t sub out after halftime until the final minute. Alexander got a 45-second break midway through the second half.
“We just didn’t quite have enough gas in the tank,” McDermott said.
Michigan did. The Wolverines scored on four straight possessions at the start of the second half — three were driving layups by point guard Zavier Simpson — to retake the lead at 46-43 with 17:30 left.
Junior forward Isaiah Livers, whose 6-foot-7 frame allowed him to comfortably elevate over CU’s guards, proved problematic for the Jays all night. He made a jump shot and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to stretch his team’s advantage to 56-50 with 12 minutes remaining.
A couple of possessions later, Livers finished off an alley-oop in transition. He dived for a loose ball and secured an offensive board — hustle that led to a Brandon Johns layup.
Simpson’s layup the next time down put Michigan ahead 64-55 at the 9:14 mark. CU never got closer than five points after that.
“Obviously our depth is not where we wanted to be,” Alexander said. “But this is our second game of the season. I told my guys, hold y’all’s heads up. We’ve still got a long season ahead of us. We’ve got to learn from this. We’re gonna keep getting better so we can show people what we’re made of.”