LINCOLN, Neb. — For the sixth straight time, Nebraska’s annual game against in-state foe Creighton ended in a double-digit loss.
Nebraska trailed by one at halftime, but the 10th-ranked Bluejays pulled away in the second half with senior guard Tai Webster on the bench in foul trouble. Creighton won 77-62 in front of a packed crowd of 15,902 on Wednesday night, evening the all-time series between the two schools at 25-25.
“I give Creighton a lot of credit,” Nebraska Coach Tim Miles said. “They did an excellent job especially at the start of the game and in the second half about five minutes in when they made their run. They’re an extremely talented team, they’re well coached, and they beat us tonight. It makes me disappointed and sick to my stomach that we could not foster another fight. I thought we were in good shape until Tai [Webster] picked up his fourth [foul] and then we went on a long, long drought that we cannot allow to happen. I know we don’t have a lot of leadership, but at the same time we have guys who can make those plays.”
For the second straight year, Creighton raced out to an 18-4 lead as sophomore forward Michael Jacobson scored on the opening possession but Creighton reeled off the next 14.
The Huskers took the first punch on the chin and countered, however, punching back with an 11-2 to cut the deficit to five. Nebraska continued to chip away and tied the game twice in the final three-and-a-half minutes. Creighton turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and saw its lead dwindle to 31-30 at halftime.
“Obviously, they are a fast team, and they like to get up and down the court,” Webster said. “We kind of settled in and kind of found a groove where we were not letting them get as many opportunities in the fast break. I think just playing with poise on both ends was the main thing for us. Sitting down on defensive end and getting shots on the offensive end was the key for us.”
The Huskers tied the game again at 33-33 with a 3-pointer by Webster on their first possession of the second half, but Webster picked up his third and fourth fouls within the first 5:05 of the second half and had to take a seat.
With the Huskers’ senior leader on the bench, Creighton went on a 7-0 run to grab control of the game. Webster sat for just 2:38 before Miles sent him back out with four fouls, but his return couldn’t stop the bleeding as Creighton’s run extended to 19-6.
“They had a big shot, we tied it up and got a big 3,” sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. said. “Then we put our heads down right after that, then they got on the run and we never came back from it.”
Creighton’s lead swelled to as much as 21 before Nebraska scored a few late buckets to make the final margin a bit more respectable.
Tai Webster was the only Husker in double figures with 20 points on 6-of-17 shooting, including a couple of late layups with the game already decided. Nebraska shot 32.4 percent from the field, including 3-of-22 from the perimeter.
“They did a good job,” Webster said about Creighton’s defense. “I think they made us shoot a lot of tough ones, and they had a length on their team. They probably tried to make us shoot those tough ones. We were taking too many of those tough ones to be honest. We are a team that does well when we are on the rim. Coach Miles anyway says ‘Love the 2, like the 3’ so that’s when we are at best.”
Sophomore forward Ed Morrow Jr. did grab a career-high 13 rebounds, but he finished with two points on 1-of-3 shooting and two turnovers.
Despite the final result, Creighton Coach Greg McDermott said he came away impressed with the Huskers.
“I’ve said leading up to the game: I think that that freshman class from last year has made incredible strides,” McDermott said. “Jacobson, Morrow, Watson Jr. have really, really improved. [Jack] McVeigh’s had some games where he’s shot the basketball well.
“Webster, I don’t know in my 28 years of coaching if I’ve ever seen a guy who’s improved from his sophomore to his junior, he improved his scoring average by seven points, and then he did it again from his junior year to his senior year. That’s almost unheard of, so obviously he’s spent an incredible amount of time in the gym working on his game. I think with his leadership they’re going to have a chance to be in games. Then it’s just a matter of young guys figuring out how to win close games. Tim will keep them going the right direction. They’ll be competitive to the end.”
The Jays only shot 5-of-15 from deep and leading scorer Marcus Foster finished with seven points in just 25 minutes after getting in foul trouble, but the Jays still shot better than 50 percent for the ninth straight game to open the season. Creighton senior point guard Maurice Watson Jr. led all players with 25 points and eight assists and senior forward Cole Huff added 13 points including 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
“That was part of the plan,” Miles said. “We thought if Watson’s a scorer and not a distributor – he can’t be both – but if he goes out and gets 12 and 10 we’re really in trouble. Let’s make him finish at the rim. It took a while to adjust to his speed. He got some looks that – the big was playing halfway and then going to go back and help late, and then we did it really well for a while but he still had eight assists. I think you have to credit him on excellent play. That was really good point guard play. I don’t regret our game plan. We only gave them five 3s and Huff had four of them and twice I think we were just standing in front of him and he still got them.
In the end, it was Nebraska’s offense rather than its defense that truly cost the Huskers the game.
“I think we did a lot of right things but you just can’t win a game when, I think in the second half we shoot 31 percent and we probably made five of our last seven shots for crying out loud,” Miles said. “You can’t be that inept on offense and expect to win.”
Miles said it was the lack of competitiveness outside of the Huskers’ run to end the first half that disappointed him the most from Wednesday’s game.
“I’m just disappointed in everything – myself and those guys – that we didn’t make this a haymaker type of event, that it wasn’t back and forth and the best team wins,” Miles said. “We got out of it and we’re down 41-37 and we just don’t do anything. It’s just so disappointing.”
The Huskers don’t have any time to hang their heads, however. They’ll face an even tougher task on Saturday when they head to Lawrence to take on No. 3 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Tip-off is set for 2:15 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.