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No. 3 Creighton Outlasts No. 11 Oregon in Double-Overtime

by Mar 24, 2024Creighton Mens Basketball

No. 3 Creighton Outlasts No. 11 Oregon in Double-Overtime
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

For the third time in the past four years, Creighton men’s basketball is heading to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

It took an extra 10 minutes to punch their ticket, but the third-seeded Bluejays are heading to Detroit after an 86-73 double-overtime win over 11th-seeded Oregon in Pittsburgh.

“Epic game,” Coach Greg McDermott said. “Not sure I’ve been part of one quite like it in 35 years, and obviously Oregon has had a hell of a year. What Dana [Altman] has done to navigate all the injuries and get the team to this point where they’re a point away from advancing into the Sweet 16, it was anybody’s game … Really proud of our guys. They’ve stuck with each other all year … They’ve been absolutely a joy to coach. They don’t care who gets the credit. They share the basketball. They play in an unselfish way.”

Here are three takeaways from the game.

Survive and Advance

The tag line for the TV show “Survivor” is “Outwit. Outplay. Outlast.” I can’t think of a better description for how Creighton won this game.

Saturday was a brilliant back-and-forth between two elite coaches. The game plans and strategic adjustments throughout the game produced a contest that was tight to the very end.

The big-time players on both sides made big-time plays in the biggest moments. Oregon stars Jermaine Couisnard and N’Faly Dante combined for 60 points, 28 rebounds and six assists. Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander both scored big buckets late in regulation and overtime to extend the game, and those two plus Ryan Kalkbrenner combined for 57 points, 30 rebounds and 11 assists.

Ryan Kalkbrenner throws down one of his four dunks against Oregon. Photo by Eric Francis.

But the true difference in the game was the final factor the Survivor jury uses to select a winner: outlast. Creighton began preparing for this moment as soon as last season ended. Their offseason training program and in-season workloads were all designed to make sure Creighton’s veterans were ready to do whatever the team needed of them come March — including playing 50 minutes in an NCAA Tournament game.

Injuries this season severely limited Oregon’s rotation as well. Both sides essentially rolled with a six or seven-man rotation. Depth was not a factor for either team — it came down to how long the dudes for each team could last.

For 45 minutes, the game as a knock-down, drag-out duel. Neither side led by more than six points. Then in overtime, Creighton shifted up a gear, and Oregon’s collective tank hit empty.

The Jays scored the first 15 points of the second overtime. Oregon didn’t score until the final 35 seconds and didn’t make a field goal at all. You could see the fatigue on the Ducks setting in throughout the game, but heading into the second overtime, the Bluejays were as loose as could be and fired up to keep playing.

Scheierman and Alexander went the full 50 minutes while Kalkbrenner played 49. They became the first trio to play 49-plus minutes in a NCAA Tournament game in nearly 20 years.

Game ball goes to head coach of athletic performance Jeremy Anderson, whose name seemed to come up nearly every press conference throughout the season as McDermott and players alike credited him for preparing them to handle anything from a mental and physical standpoint.

“I can’t remember which overtime I talked to them and said we’re built for this,” McDermott said. “We play fast, we’re on the attack, and we’re ready for that. And our strength coach, Jeremy Anderson, our athletic trainer, Ben McNair, do a great job of managing their minutes and their bodies and how much we do during a week of practice in preparation for the game to make sure that they’re ready.

“Double overtime on this stage, the last game of the night, we got a couple lucky bounces there. I lost my mom this year. I’m pretty sure she helped with a couple bounces tonight.”

Let it Fly and Chase ‘em Down

Creighton is one of the best and most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the country, yet even the Jays have gone brutally cold from time to time this season, which has usually resulted in a loss. With the way Saturday’s game started, Creighton fans likely felt a bit of déjà vu in the worst way.

Alexander hit Creighton’s first 3-point attempt of the day. The Jays then proceeded to miss their next 10 attempts — almost all of them great looks.

Dana Altman talked on Friday about how difficult Creighton was to prepare for on a quick turn-around because the Ducks just didn’t see teams that took so many 3s in Pac-12 play, and that showed up early and often. The Jays picked apart Oregon’s match-up zone and generated open 3-point looks at will. They just didn’t fall for an extended stretch.

“Let it Fly” is the program mantra, however, and a few misses are never going to discourage this team. Out of the under-12 timeout, McDermott drew up a play to spring Scheierman for a 3 that the senior knocked down to snap the streak, and the Jays proceeded to hit 14 of their final 28 3s including three in the second overtime.

Steven Ashworth missed an open look to open the final period, but Creighton went right back to him on the next possession and he let it fly with no hesitation, knocking it down to give Creighton the lead for good. The Utah State transfer finished with a team-high 21 points including five 3s — all of them coming in big moments.

On the next possession, Kalkbrenner found himself free on the right wing and he decided to fire away as well, hitting his only 3-point attempt of the game. The 7-footer also hit his only attempt against Akron in the first round and is now a career 75% 3-point shooter in the tournament (3-for-4).

“I know that’s probably the number one shot Mac wanted on that possession,” Kalkbrenner said jokingly. “But, no, I just work on it, so I’m confident in taking that whenever it’s a close game. Saw I had a little bit of space and let it fly.”

Creighton shot 38.5% from deep, hit 15 3s and outscored Oregon from the arc by 24, offsetting a 40-18 Duck edge in the paint. It wasn’t simply a case of living and dying by the 3, though. Creighton also took advantage of the match-up zone’s weaknesses in another way — by crashing the offensive glass.

Creighton corralled 16 offensive rebounds and converted them in 21 points, much of that damage coming in the first half when the 3s hadn’t started falling yet. Redshirt freshman Jasen Green set the tone in that regard, grabbing four offensive rebounds in less than seven minutes in the first half.

Green finished with four points and nine rebounds — none more meaningful than his tip-slam in double-overtime after Kalkbrenner’s 3 that pushed Creighton’s lead to eight midway through the period. The Millard North product picked a heck of a time for his first career dunk. Even more impressive than the play itself was that McDermott called his number after sitting for 18 of the 20 minutes in the second half then stuck with him throughout both overtimes, and the freshman was ready for the moment.

“I can’t say enough about Jasen Green and his impact on the game,” McDermott said. “He wasn’t playing a lot, coming off an injury that he had, but he stayed ready, and he kept working. And whether he was on the scout team or playing a little off the bench, he was always willing to do whatever he had to do to help the team. So I couldn’t be more proud of him and the impact that he had in this game. He deserved a night like this for how selfless he’s been and his approach to this team.”

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Forty More Minutes Together

Creighton fans understand as well as anyone how difficult it can be to win in the NCAA Tournament. The last time a third-seeded Creighton team went into the round of 32 against a team with green as its primary color, it went very, very poorly.

The program has come a long way in the 10 years since the loss to Baylor that ended Doug McDermott’s Creighton career. The upperclassmen on this year’s team nearly faced the same fate a couple of times, but they dug in and made the plays needed to get back into it and are heading to the Sweet 16 for the third time in the past four years.

“Sometimes in sport, the hardest thing to do is what you’re expected to do, and last year’s group had huge preseason expectations on them, and we went through a terrible stretch where we lost six in a row and we were able to kind of rebound from it and get ourselves back in the tournament and get to the Elite Eight,” Greg McDermott said. “This group has had that on their shoulders from the start. And when Trey and Kalk made the decision to come back after going through the draft process and Baylor deciding to come back for his fifth year, they had this in mind. This is what they were shooting for is to get back and have another opportunity to try to get to another Elite Eight. And we put ourselves in that position.

“They’ve been an absolute joy to coach, and what you saw going into that second overtime, them being loose and them having fun, they love the game. They love each other. It’s obvious when you watch them interact on or off the basketball floor. They are the first ones to celebrate their teammates’ success and they’re the first one to rally to a teammate when he makes a play that he didn’t like. And it’s just been an absolute blast to be part of. Selfishly, I’m obviously excited that I get to coach them at least another week.”

In the game, Kalkbrenner broke Doug McDermott’s program record for career NCAA Tournament points (he’s up to 140). Alexander extended his own program record of consecutive NCAA Tournament starts to eight. Scheierman set a new record for made 3-pointers with 17 (passing Ethan Wragge and Kyle Korver with 16 each).

The win improved Creighton to 8-3 in the NCAA Tournament over the past four years, and now this group will have an opportunity to suit up together for at least 40 more minutes.

“It’s a great feeling,” Alexander said. “I know I speak for everybody up here, we love this group of guys. We love rocking and rolling together. We love everything that comes with the road trips and us just being able to have another week with each other. So we’re going to cherish them. We’re going to try to stay in the moment and just continue to love each other and continue to play at a level that we feel like we can play at. And from there we’ll just kind of let the dominoes fall where they do.”

Up next: No. 2 Tennessee in Detroit.

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