Sunday, January 31, 2010

JTG 01/31/10 - Life After P

What do the Bluejays look like after the suspension of junior guard P'Allen Stinnett? Only slightly better than the Bluejays before said suspension.

Let's start with the good. In their first game after Stinnett's suspension, Creighton notched their first road conference win of the season over Bradley, 73-68. While it wasn't a work of art, and needed the Braves to have an uncharacteristically cold shooting night at home, a win is a win, especially on the road. The victory was made sweeter when Justin Carter made two free throws to seal the win. Sure, that doesn't sound too dramatic, but with Creighton's struggles at the charity stripe getting some clutch free throws on the road can do nothing but enhance the team's confidence.

So, great news. Creighton clears the decks of a player who seemed to be a significant negative influence on the team. They go on the road, to play a solid mid-table conference opponent, and find the guts to hold on and win. Is this it? Is this the turning point that can salvage the most disappointing and underachieving season in Dana Altman's CU career?

Drake 79, Creighton 74.

But that's not really the score that tells the story. Of far greater concern was Drake 22, Creighton 9. That was the score about four minutes into the game. And, although CU did manage to dig themselves out of the hole they dug to tie the score with nine minutes left to go, the energy they had to put into the comeback showed in their lack of finish at the end.

The end of the game, as well, was hauntingly familiar for Creighton fans. Missed free throws. Crucial turnovers. Defensive lapses. Haven't we read this story somewhere before.

So, Creighton is now 11-11 and 6-5 in Valley play. Where do we go from here?

First of all, it should at least be observed that Creighton was also playing without starting guard Darryl Ashford, who was at a funeral. Kenny Lawson, who has been at the heart of a lot of Creighton's all-too-infrequent wins, also got himself into foul trouble and ended up far less of a factor than he had been previously.

The Bluejays did put together an impressive comeback after digging themselves such a hole early in the first half. To get the game all the way back to a tie shows quite a bit of fire and resilience. But ultimately Creighton paid for their lack of ability to finish, which Altman spent quite a bit of time discussing in his post-game press conference.

Even though Stinnett had been relegated to a bench role as the season wore on, though, there is a period of adjustment that Creighton will have to go through. While Altman finally had enough of Stinnett's immaturity, Stinnett's athleticism and playmaking ability on the court is still unmatched amongst the current Bluejay roster. Not having that scoring threat to call on when trying to make a comeback on the road in conference play is a new experience, and Creighton wasn't up to the test Saturday night.

The Bluejays get Evansville at home on Wednesday, then travel to Missouri State on Saturday. The Purple Aces look to be a game Creighton should expect to win, particularly at the Qwest Center. Missouri State should still be a winnable game as well, particularly if the team can get more comfortable with the post-Stinnett rotation.

Let's take a quick look ahead at the remaining schedule, with at least a stab in the dark as to the result: Evansville (W), at Missouri State (W), Indiana State (W), Illinois State (L), at Northern Iowa (L), at Southern Illinois (W), Bradley (W).

If I'm right, that puts Creighton at 16-13, and 11-7 in Valley play. That should be good enough for at least a first round bye in the Valley tournament - which, as we've discussed since Thanksgiving, is where the Bluejays only legitimate hope for an NCAA berth realistically lies.

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