OMAHA, Neb. — Austin Hill knew it would be a challenge for Illinois State’s basketball team to beat Creighton on Wednesday with Jackie Carmichael back home with the flu.
“As long as we go out here and give 110 (percent) it doesn’t matter if we lose by one or 20,” said Hill. “As long as we just go out and play hard that’s all Coach (Tim Jankovich) can ask for and all we can do.”
Hill didn’t make it easy on Creighton. The Redbird senior guard poured in a career-high 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
However, the Bluejays were up to the challenge. Creighton hit a season-high 62.8 percent from the field and sank 10-of-18 3-point attempts in handing ISU a 75-59 defeat in a Missouri Valley Conference game before an announced crowd of 14,702 at Qwest Center.
The Redbirds’ fifth straight defeat was sealed when Creighton went on a 14-0 run at the end of the first half and beginning of the second. That turned a 25-23 lead for the Redbirds (11-16, 3-13 Valley) into a 37-25 deficit.
Hill put the Redbirds on his back at that point. He scored 16 straight points for ISU, keeping Creighton (17-11, 9-7) within sight. His coast-to-coast layup cut the Bluejays’ advantage to 50-41 with 8:39 left.
Creighton used a 9-2 spurt, capped by Josh Jones’ 3-pointer, to finally put the game away.
“Teams we’ve had in the past, we could erase a 12-point deficit in a minute-in-a-half or two minutes,” said Jankovich. “For us now a 12-point deficit is not a little hill, but a mountain.”
Justin Clark came off the bench and gave ISU a lift in the first half when he scored eight of his 12 points. However, the Redbirds didn’t get much offense out of its post players without Carmichael.
Creighton was paced by standout freshman forward Doug McDermott’s 18 points. Jones came off the bench and made 6-of-6 shots, including all three outside the arc, for 15 points.
ISU started the game in a zone defense. It was an easy decision for Jankovich.
“We didn’t have Jackie. That was the long and short of that,” he said. “They have (Gregory) Echenique and (Kenny) Lawson, and I did the math. I thought we would get in foul trouble early and might be playing five guards by the end of the game.”
The zone was effective and caught Creighton by surprise — for a while, anyway.
“I did not anticipate they would start in it. Our guys just had a hard time getting in the flow because of that,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. “Once we settled in I thought we were able to attack it and get some of the shots we wanted.”
Hill was called for a taunting technical foul after scoring a basket with 15:44 left in the first half. That became more important when he picked up his second foul two minutes later and went to the bench for the rest of the half.
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“I was talking (to Creighton),” said Hill. “I just said, ‘Let’s go.’ I was into the game and the ref got me for a technical. He wanted to eliminate that from the game. So I don’t blame him.”
Clark provided an unexpected spark for ISU. His second 3-pointer gave ISU a 25-23 lead with 4:59 left until intermission. The sophomore guard, who came in shooting 27.6 percent from the field and 19.3 percent on 3-pointers, had not made more than two baskets in a game since Nov. 28.
“It was the mentality of coming out and wanting to score,” said Clark, who finished 5-of-8 from the field. “I went back to my old ways. The past 10-11 games I haven’t been looking to score. I said, ‘What have I got to lose?’ ”
Then came an offensive drought that ISU knows only too well. The Redbirds missed five shots and committed two turnovers in their final seven possessions before the break.
Creighton seized on the opportunity. The Bluejays capped a 9-0 run when Kaleb Korver sank a 3-pointer from in front of the Redbird bench with three seconds left for a 32-25 lead.
“The thing we could not afford tonight was exactly what they did in spades,” said Jankovich. “Not only did they shoot well, but crazy well. We couldn’t afford that. I thought a number of the ones they made we were guarding them.”
Hill had set his scoring high four days earlier with 23 points in a loss to Valley co-leader Missouri State.
“He’s been tremendous lately, the best I’ve ever seen him and playing with more confidence than ever,” said Jankovich. “He’s really been a force lately. It’s fun to watch.”
REDBIRD REPORT CARD
FRONT COURT – C—: Jackie Carmichael was out and no offense came from the inside guys. ISU defense did hold own against bruising Creighton bigs.
BACKCOURT – B—: Austin Hill was sensational offensively, but needed some help. Creighton hit some tough 3-pointers near end of shot clocks.
BENCH – C+: Justin Clark came to life offensively and provided big spark in first half with three baskets. Not much other bench help.
OVERALL – C: The Redbirds hung in for long time without Carmichael and made Creighton work hard. Maybe trip to Western Michigan on Saturday will bring relief.