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01.11.2011 / The Jays Pull Out Some Big Wins on the Road. Posting by Brian Kooienga, Creighton Mens Basketball Graduate Manager

The two game road trip that the Bluejays went on last week cannot be summed up into any one word or catchphrase that currently exists, so I will try my best to narrow the list down to three: stressful, important, and awesome.

"Coming to town for this primetime mid-week matchup is the Wichita State Shockers."

Arriving at the airport for our departing flight into the always beautiful and timeless Carbondale, IL, the Bluejays were excited.  Having just finished a quick and productive practice, the atmosphere was positive and the guys were in a good mood. All these things changed when we discovered that a crack in the plane’s windshield would cause for a minor 4-hour wait in the airport. With airport security being what it is these days, the decision to stay in the terminal and wait out the delay, which ended up being a good time. The guys were able to enjoy one another’s company, watch movies, take a nap, or just simply hang out and talk. What was frustrating at first, ended up being a fun time. 

Following the short flight into Southern Illinois aka Saluki Country, the team grabbed a quick meal, hit the beds, and woke up to take care of business and put the Salukis to sleep. To capture their second road win of the conference season, the Jays needed to play a complete 40 minute game, and unfortunately in the first half, the effort just was not there. Missed defensive assignments, poor communication, and overall lack of effort plagued the team in the first half and found the Jays down 7 at the break. 

Sensing the urgency and the need to win this game, Senior Kaleb Korver and sophomore transfer Gregory Echenique came through in the clutch in the second half and delivered. Scoring 17 points and pulling down critical rebounds, the duo led the team not only down the stretch to tie the game, but also into overtime where the guys made some free throws, got some defensive stops, and we were able to escape the newly renovated SIU Arena with a huge road win.  

Packing up and taking a short bus ride over to Evansville, Indiana the next morning, the team was both physically and mentally drained from the night before. It was extremely important that in our short, but very important practice, that they focus and try to absorb as much information about the upcoming opponent as possible, given the quick turnaround for the next game. 

In the opening moments of the Evansville game, the team was on fire.  Knocking down shots, making extra passes, and dare I say it, defending with some aggression and passion, and we jumped out to an early 11-point lead. It was at this moment that the level of play and decision making skills came to an abrupt halt and the guys began to play without any fire, execution, or drive, and the Evansville Aces, lead by their sophomore stud Colt Ryan came storming back into the game and actually led at the break 34-32. While the Jays continue to struggle to put a complete 40-minute game together, something must be said about their ability to rebound, respond to coaching and mid-game changes, and their desire and will to fight back into games. Again, Korver and Echenique had huge roles in the second road win of the weekend. Freshman Doug McDermott also had a big game, especially in the second half, when he poured in 15 points in the second period. Down the stretch the Jays were able to get stops when they needed to and were able to make (most of their) free throws when they counted. To go into Southern Illinois and Evansville, back to back, on short rest and get out of there with two wins is not an easy task, and the boys in blue found a way to get it done.

Winning tough games on the road is not an easy thing to do, especially in a tough environment like the one that the players faced on Friday.  These wins will be extremely important down the stretch as the conference season continues and the race for the league title begins to heat up in February. 

Looking back on the trip it is easy to see where it was stressful, important, and awesome. The overtime game against Southern Illinois, the late game collapse avoided in Evansville, and battling the constant pains of modern day travel (cracked windshields and whiteout snowstorms) were without a doubt the most stressful part of the trip.  Going out and picking up these two road wins were absolutely important to this team’s goals of returning to the NCAA tournament after winning the conference title. And finally we arrive at the awesome part of the trip. While some would complain about 4 days of spending every waking moment with a group of 18-22 year old college guys, it is so easy to forget that some of these moments are the first time that these guys have won on the road (see 2010 Creighton Bluejays), or this is the first time they have visited some of the arenas and venues and it is all new to them. The guys on the team have really started to mesh and become friends and really start to enjoy each other. When stuck in the airport for 4 hours, obviously there were some complaints, but for the most part the guys just hung out, talked, and made the best of the situation. I believe that is exactly what this team is about, finding a way to turn a negative into a positive. If there is an injury, it just means someone gets to step up into a larger role. If there is an excellent player on the opposing team, it just means that they get to show how hard they can work on the defensive side of the ball. This team faced adversity this weekend, and you know what they did? They made the best of the situation and came out on top, and our staff could not be more proud. 

Wichita State Preview
Coming to town for this primetime mid-week matchup is the Wichita State Shockers. The pre-season MVC Champions have had an awesome season so far and are playing some amazing basketball right now. They were just beat at home (which is basically impossible) on Sunday night by the new first place Missouri State Bears (a team that is establishing themselves as the new team to beat in the conference). 

Some quick things that need to be addressed for the Wichita State game on Wednesday night:

  • It is a WHITEOUT so, obviously, WEAR A WHITE SHIRT
  • Wichita is 0-17 the last 17 times they have come to Omaha, this streak needs to continue
  • This game is for sole possession of 2nd place in the conference, so it is absolutely critical
  • It is a home game, and like those terrifying Under Armor commercials suggest, “WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE/QWEST CENTER”
  • Everyone needs to be there. I would love to see the attendance announced be closer to 17,000 than 12,000. So go to the game, it will   be an awesome matchup. Basically the best teams in the conference going at it on the big stage in front of the best fans in college basketball.
  • Did I mention that they are having $1 pop and adult beverages before   the game?

So in conclusion, here is what you need to know. This game is huge, we need to win, everyone is going to be there, wear a white shirt, show up early and take advantage of the awesome deals (Drinks at the Qwest for only a $1 are you serious!?!) and then you get to see what I believe are the two best teams in the conference battle head to head for 40 minutes of basketball bliss.

Be there. Be loud. Go Jays!
Brian Kooienga

What did you think of the Jays games this past weekend? Join in the conversation NOW and post your comments.

Posted at 08:38 AM | Permalink
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