By Nicole Reitz | @nicolereitz02
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — With the cancellation of the 2020 Tournament, the Creighton Bluejays have waited two years to prove themselves on the big stage, and with the fight they put up against UC Santa Barbara Saturday afternoon, they let Indianapolis know loud and clear that they’re here and they’re not planning to go anywhere.
Christian Bishop’s two free throws with 16 seconds to play, after an offensive rebound, became the difference in a 63-62 victory. Creighton (21-8) advanced to a second-round game against Ohio University.
The Gauchos (22-5) had one last chance. Chereef Mitchell, who was fouled with a second to play, missed a foul shot in a one-and-one situation. Brandon Cyrus grabbed the rebound, but missed a 3-point shot as time expired.
Jaquori McLaughlin and Miles Norris each scored 13 points for the Gauchos to lead four double-figure scorers.
Marcus Zegarowski led the Bluejays with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Bishop scored 15, with a team-high 11 rebounds.
If Bishop didn’t spend long hours in the gym practicing free-throws, this game could easily have been handed to UCSB. Just yesterday in practice, Bishop said, he was struggling to even make a free-throw.
“Yesterday I was like ‘Why am I not making shots?’” Bishop said. “When you’re in the gym at midnight, you envision taking that game-winning shot. I was ready and I gave myself confidence.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott puts his team in these tough situations in practice for a reason. He often tells Bishop that he has to make his free throws at the end of practice in order to leave.
“It’s a part of his routine and you never know when the situation is going to happen,” McDermott said. I give credit to his preparation tonight.”
Creighton is making its 22nd NCAA appearance, the 13th in the last 23 years. The last NCAA Tournament win for the Bluejays came in 2014 against Louisiana.
The Bluejays have taken their program to the next level, achieving milestones and setting new goals. The Bluejays understand they will have to tighten up their defense.
“We knew [the game tonight] wasn’t our identity,” Bishop said. “Everyone celebrated in the locker room, but we regrouped and we have to prepare for the next game.”
Creighton has never played an NCAA Tournament game in the state of Indiana, but there are many Indiana connections on the roster and the coaching staff.
Damien Jefferson, a resident of East Chicago, and center Jacob Epperson graduated from La Lumiere School in La Porte. Assistant coach Alan Huss is a former head coach at La Lumiere and assistant coach Paul Lusk previously served as an assistant coach for Purdue.
“I am really excited for the next round,” Bishop said. “It’s going to be an even harder matchup and we’re not done yet.”