Sluggish start too much for Bluejays to overcome against rival Huskers

Creighton’s Mitch Ballock (24) fires a 3-pointer over Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. (0) in the loss to the Huskers.

As the music blared and the fans roared, Creighton’s players sat together during first-half timeouts and recited the basic elements of their game plan to one another.

They understood then what needed to happen to withstand Nebraska’s early barrage.

But once they trotted back out on the court? Once the whistle blew to restart play? Once their motivated opponent revved itself into attack mode yet again?

The messages simply did not stick. Not until it was too late.

The Jays spent the first 15 minutes of Saturday’s 94-75 defeat trying to ignite their stagnant offense while their apprehensive approach defensively did little to disrupt the surging Huskers.

They had the answers, they just couldn’t implement them. And the result was an insurmountable 21-point deficit.

“At the end of the day, we couldn’t get going,” sophomore Mitch Ballock said. “They set the tone early.”

Ballock did help lead Creighton’s eventual response — his 3-pointer with 4:45 left before halftime ended a 31-10 NU run. The Jays trailed 47-34 at the break. Their plucky and persistent persona kept them within striking distance for much of the second half.

But ultimately, the damage was already done.

Nebraska, eager to snap a seven-game losing streak to CU, never relinquished the momentum.

“You just can’t dig a hole like that in an environment like this and expect to survive,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

The factors that led to the lopsided first-half score were apparent on both ends of the floor.

Defensively, Creighton decided to collapse its alignment inward, plugging up driving lanes and forcing Nebraska to take jump shots. But CU hoped to at least offer some resistance on those long-range tries — or maybe erase the space aggressively enough to break the Huskers’ shooting rhythm.

It didn’t work. The Huskers made three of their first four 3-pointers. During a stretch midway through the first half, they hit three in a row from deep. The team that shot 33.5 percent from 3-point range before Saturday nailed 14 3s.

“We’ve just got to be 5 percent stronger, 5 percent higher, 5 percent faster — and we’ll be fine,” Creighton junior Martin Krampelj said. “Those shooters, we had a hand up, but it just wasn’t close enough. We were there, but just not close enough.”

The Jays’ normally potent offense wasn’t able to keep pace.

They went nearly five minutes without a field goal early during NU’s decisive run, what ultimately contributed to a 10-of-28 shooting performance in the first half.

There were eight turnovers. They had four shots blocked. Perhaps forcing the issue a little too much, they couldn’t convert their chances in transition. They seemed to have several halfcourt possessions where the ball stuck to one side of the floor.

“Our message to the guys, when you get in that situation, you don’t go faster, you go slower,” McDermott said. “You don’t throw less passes, you throw more passes. You don’t cut less, you cut more.”

They did figure it out. But Nebraska was in control by then.

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