No. 22 Creighton got off to a hot start and responded to every Nebraska push late to take down the Huskers 79-74 at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The Bluejays got back in the win column after suffering their first loss Thursday, while the Huskers fell for the first time this season. Both teams are 3-1.
“I thought it was a really good college basketball game,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “It was a fun game to be a part of. We had the lead almost the whole game. We were obviously really, really hot to start … I think they’ve got a really good team. So we’re elated to get out of here with a win.”
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Battle of the Bigs
The frontcourts stepped up in a big way for both teams as the four starting bigs combined for 84 points.
For Creighton, Morgan Maly bounced back from a tough outing on Thursday to finish with a team-high 23 points, shooting 5-of-9 from deep and dishing out three assists. She scored 14 points in the first quarter alone, knocking down her first four 3-point attempts to give her 200 for her career.
“She, like my dad would say, is a unicorn in the basketball world of things,” Nebraska junior and fellow in-state product Alexis Markowski said of Maly, a Crete native. “She can post up and she’s a threat in the post, so to put a guard on her, and then she’s also a perimeter player. She has a really good shot and she’s a lefty. Pushing off the block doesn’t work, she’s going to have that jump-shot fade, and I think this summer she got really good at USA 3×3 and is just having a really good year. I’ve known Morgan for a long time, playing in the same club and going against her, so I’ve never really been able to go guard her.”
Maly slowed down in the second quarter, but Emma Ronsiek picked up the slack. She scored 19 of her 21 in the last three quarters, adding six rebounds and three assists.
On the other end, Markowski had a game- and season-high 24 points, shooting 9-of-15 from the field and 6-of-8 from the line. The undersized Creighton bigs had a tough time stopping her in the post and Nebraska did a good job of executing to get her deep touches. She also hit buzzer-beaters to close out the first and third quarters, a runner after an offensive rebound and then a hook that caught the front of the rim and rolled home.
Freshman Natalie Potts has established herself next to Markowski at the four spot and had another strong showing on Sunday. She finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line. She also accounted for one of Nebraska’s three made 3-pointers.
“I’m so proud of Natalie Potts,” Markowski said. “That girl is just a winner. She knows how to win. She just does things that she knows the team needs to be done … She always is crushing the o-boards. She’s just a hustle player, and if you have a girl like that on your team, you’re going to go far.”
Creighton never trailed, but Nebraska also never quit. The opening flurry of 3s was enough to give Creighton an early lead, but Nebraska made several pushes to get back into the game.
Trailing by eight in the third quarter, the Huskers scored six straight to cut the deficit to two at 55-53. The Bluejays went to Ronsiek in the post on the next two possessions and she converted tough buckets, sparking a 10-1 run before Markowski dropped in a hook to make it 65-56 heading into the fourth.
The Huskers continued to chip away in the fourth, cutting it down to one possession again at 72-69 with four straight free throws from point guard Darian White, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
However, the Bluejays got the ball to Lauren Jensen and she got downhill for a tough bucket, ending a three-minute scoring drought. Jensen had a tough shooting night but still finished with 14 points, surpassing 1,000 for her career.
“It’s experience, right?” Flanery said. “We’ve got a huge gap between our seniors and second-year players, and I just think in order to win a road game against this good of a team, you’ve got to have multiple players be confident to make plays in that situation, and I think we have we have that. Morgan had the hot start but I thought Emma, through the 40 minutes, really put her imprint on the game. They did a good job on Lauren, they didn’t give her a lot, but she’s still somebody you feel comfortable at the end of the game putting the ball in her hands …
“Mostly it’s just experience and having played together and having multiple kids know that they can make a play at the end.”
Jensen missed a 3 on the next possession, but sophomore Kiani Lockett, in for the fouled-out Molly Mogensen, grabbed the offensive rebound and drew a foul, splitting the free throws. After a pair of Husker free throws, Lockett grabbed two more offensive rebounds, allowing the Huskers to run the clock down to 31 seconds before Nebraska sent Maly to the line. She hit both shots and that was enough of a cushion for the Bluejays to seal the win.
Injury Issues Persist
Both teams were short-handed coming into the day as each side only dressed 10 players.
For Creighton, Lexi Unruh suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. On Sunday, senior Jayme Horan went down with an apparent knee injury and did not return to the game, though early indications are she may have avoided serious injury.
“I think it’s intact,” Flanery said of Horan’s knee. “We’ll assess, but she’s braced on that knee and I think it’s intact. But we’ll get it checked out. We just lost Lexi Unruh for the season who’s one of our 6-1 kids that can kind of guard up, and if we’re without Jayme for a little while, which I don’t know, that certainly puts our depth in a little bit more of a — because we’re going to play back-to-back in Cancun against Georgia Tech and Michigan State, so it’d be nice to have a little bit more depth.”
For Nebraska, Shelley and Maddie Krull were both listed as questionable heading into the day while Annika Stewart joined Allison Weidner on the “OUT” list. Neither Shelley nor Krull started, but they both played.
Shelley, who injured her ankle in the Huskers’ previous game, didn’t quite look like herself, finishing with seven points on 2-of-11 shooting in 32 minutes off the bench. However, she also dished out five assists. Krull played 21 minutes, scoring five points and grabbing four rebounds. She went down at one point in the game and limped back to the locker room, but she was able to return to later on.
“Just having their presence, their leadership, their experience — I think you guys know both of them bring something to the game that is really hard to find,” White said. “Jaz is a really special player, she’s a threat all around. And Maddie, she’s also an all-around, good defensive player. So having them back is just really nice. It makes our team all around better.”
A full-strength Shelley could have changed the outcome, but the return of the two seniors provided a boost for the Huskers regardless.