OMAHA–(CU Athletics Nov. 9)–Powered by a 52-point second half, the Creighton men’s basketball team opened the 2021-22 season with a 90-77 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday, November 9.
The victory lifted the Bluejays to 1-0 on the season, and gave head coach Greg McDermott his 20th consecutive win in a season opening game.
Creighton led 7-2 after three minutes before the visiting Golden Lions embarked on a 17-0 run during the next six minutes. Creighton fell behind by as much as 15 points (26-11) and still trailed 47-38 at the intermission.
Creighton came out blazing in the second half on both ends of the floor. The Bluejays hit their first 10 shots from the field in the second half, and went on to knock down 14 of their first 16 to storm out to a 69-60 lead with 10:47 remaining. Senior Alex O’Connell had three of CU’s five dunks in the first 7:15 of the second half to get the crowd of 15,072 roaring as the Jays earned a 61-57 advantage.
Helping to key Creighton’s turnaround was a defensive shift by McDermott, moving O’Connell to defend Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Trey Sampson. The Lions’ forward had 20 points in the first half, while O’Connell had three points in the opening 20 minutes. The shift slowed down Sampson, limiting him to a nine points in the second half. More importantly the success on the defensive end, energized the Bluejay senior. O’Connell scored 17 points in the second half, making 3-of-4 from long range in the final 20 minutes, while tying his collegiate high with 20 points.
Creighton went on to push its lead to as much as 17 (89-72) late in the game, but the turning point was Creighton’s 33-13 run from the final possession of the first half to the 10:47 mark of the second frame.
O’Connell finished with a team-high 20 points on the night, equaling his career-high set against Syracuse on February 23, 2019 as a member of Duke. A pair of Bluejay newcomers delivered double-doubles in their first game for Creighton as Northwest Missouri State transfer Ryan Hawkins finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while freshman Ryan Nembhard finished with 15 points and 10 assists in his debut.
Nembhard wasn’t the only Bluejay to star in his debut, as fellow freshman Arthur Kaluma owned 15 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. McNeese State transfer KeyShawn Feazell added 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting and contributed to CU’s 58-28 advantage in the paint. Creighton shot 58.5 percent from the field (38-65), including 31-of-40 (77.5 percent) from two-point range. CU dished 22 assists and blocked seven shots in addition to a 46-33 rebound edge.
Sampson made 10-of-18 shots overall and had 29 points, 10 rebounds and four steals, while Shawn Williams finished with 16 points. Brandon Brown owned eight offensive rebounds while grabbing 14 overall caroms and added eight points, though he was blocked four times and shot 2-of-12 from the floor. UAPB shot 37.5 percent for the game but made 13-of-15 free throws and swiped nine steals.
Creighton returns to the floor on Thursday, November 11 as the Bluejays host Kennesaw State at 7:30 pm at CHI Health Center Omaha.