AOC vs Nebraska

Senior guard Alex O’Connell celebrates a three-pointer in the first half, quieting the Nebraska crowd. O’Connell scored nine of his 15 points early in the first half to bring the Jays to a 14-5 advantage.

Men’s basketball took down Nebraska in Lincoln in the annual rivalry game, 77-69 in a thrilling game of runs Tuesday, backed by a resurgence of the Jays three-point shooting and lockdown defense.

Going into the game Nebraska were the favorites and the Huskers played like it in the opening minutes, building a 5-1 lead quickly, which got the sold out 15,900-person crowd on their feet and loud.

“You can’t try to prepare a team for playing in that [volume],” coach Greg McDermott said.

McDermott called a timeout and the Jays game flipped in a completely different direction as they would take the lead for good in the following minutes.

“We came together as a team to look in- ward like we do consistently every day and once we settled down, we played,” said senior forward Ryan Hawkins.

The Jays would score 13 unanswered points, nine of which came from junior guard Alex O’Connell, causing the Huskers to call a timeout of their own, down 14-5 five minutes in.

Creighton would continue their momentum, this time on the back of freshman point guard Ryan Nembhard, who scored nine consecutive points.

The Jays shutdown Nebraska defensively, only surrendering scores on five of their next 20 possessions and jumped to a 19-point lead against the Huskers.

But the Huskers wouldn’t roll over, and went on a run of their own, cutting the lead to four points by the end of the first half.

In the second half, the Jays recollected themselves again and increased the pace and tempo of the game.

The return of junior guard Shereef Mitchell, who had missed the opening two games to injury, was instrumental to the Jays lockdown defense.

Mitchell and the Jays shutdown Nebraska’s five-star freshman Bryce McGowens who entered the game with 27 points per game, but ended the night with just six points. 

While the Bluejays pushed the throttle offensively, two Huskers in C.J. Wilcher and Kobe Webster kept them in it by making many of those forced deep shots, going a combined 7-13 from three throughout the game.

Late in the second half, it was Nembhard and Hawkins who sealed the deal for the Jays. Hawkins entered the half with ten straight missed threes across the last four halves played but hit three straight in the closing minutes of the second half.

“Just because shots don’t fall doesn’t mean you can stop doing your other responsibilities,” Hawkins said. “I stuck with it, kept getting great looks, and to our guards credit they did a great job of getting in the lane and spraying, and I just had to do my job and make it.”

The Jays would close the game out with an eight-point win led offensively by Nembhard with 22 points and five assists while Hawkins tallied a double-double with 15 points and ten rebounds as O’Connell and sophomore center Ryan Kalkbrenner next best with 13 and 12 points.

“I’m just incredibly proud of this team, for all the new pieces we have, to come into this environment,” McDermott said. “For us to be able to gather ourselves on both ends of the floor and do what we did, it’s a good win for us.”

The Bluejays take the rivalry title home for the ninth time in ten years but will turn their focus to claiming another title in the Paradise Jam invitational tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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