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Creighton's 10-year itch is over

3/16/2012

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- As soon as Creighton guard Josh Jones missed a pair of foul shots that might have put Alabama away for good with 8.7 seconds left in Friday's Midwest Region second-round game, there was only one thought that came across his mind.

"I knew if I missed those free throws and they made a shot, it was all on me," Jones said. "All I could think was: 'Who can I stop now?'"

Fortunately for Jones and the Bluejays, he blocked Alabama guard Trevor Releford's 3-pointer with one second left to preserve No. 8 seed Creighton's 58-57 victory over the No. 9-seeded Crimson Tide at Greensboro Coliseum.

Alabama players argued Jones hit Releford's arm as he shot -- and TV replays showed as much -- but officials didn't call a foul and the game was over.

"I was really relieved because I felt like I determined the outcome of the game," Jones said. "If I'd made those free throws, they would have had to [make] a desperation shot. When I missed them, I was kind of mad. I left it up to myself to get a stop at the end."

Creighton won its first NCAA tournament game since upsetting No. 5 seed Florida 83-82 on Terrell Taylor's 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left in double overtime in Chicago in 2002. The Bluejays advanced to play the winner of Friday's game between No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 16 seed Vermont in Sunday's third round.

"We beat Alabama at their own game," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "I would not have guessed that we could win a game at 58-57. I thought we were going to need to be in the 70s and get the tempo in our favor the entire game. We weren't able to ever get it there, and that's a credit to a great defensive team."

Creighton won the game because it played great defense at the end. During a timeout before Alabama's final inbounds play, McDermott instructed his players to show man-to-man defense when they went on the floor, but then pop into a zone at the last second. After the Tide inbounded the basketball with 4.7 seconds left, Alabama coach Anthony Grant realized what the Bluejays were doing and called timeout with 2.4 seconds to play.

"They switched to zone and we had a man play on, so I tried to get a quick timeout to give our guys something to go with," Grant said.

McDermott said the Bluejays recognized the Tide's play from video they watched of an Alabama game in last week's SEC tournament. When Releford caught the ball and attempted a 3-pointer, Jones was ready to contest it.

"We saw it on the Internet and thought we could cover it in the zone the best," McDermott said. "Josh Jones did a really good job of it. He got Releford's right hand, made him take a really tough shot. We don't play zone a lot, and we have worked on it a lot the last 10 days."

Alabama's first choice was to throw the ball inside to All-SEC forward JaMychal Green, but he was double-teamed. So the ball went to Releford at the top of the key instead.

"They went zone and we figured they were going to go zone, so we tried to overload a corner and tried to pop Releford to the top, hoping that maybe we would be able to throw it inside as they got extended," Grant said. "But they did a good job. They closed on the ball and affected the shot."

Having trailed for the final five minutes of the first half and most of the second, Creighton's defense helped turn the game around in the final nine minutes. After Alabama grabbed a 50-43 lead on Charles Hankerson's baseline jumper with 8:02 left, the Tide didn't score again for the next 5 1/2 minutes.

"Our goal in the zone against Alabama was to try to keep the ball out of the paint, both off the dribble and to try to plug it up so they couldn't get it to Green and [Nick] Jacobs down low and swarm them if they do," McDermott said. "And for the most part, we did a good job of that. But I thought we could accomplish the same thing versus them with our man‑to‑man defense."

Doug McDermott, the Creighton coach's son, led the Bluejays with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting with 10 rebounds. The country's third-leading scorer (with 23.2 points per game going into the contest), McDermott had to work for nearly everything against the Crimson Tide.

"They double-teamed Doug some in the first half and got it out of his hands," Greg McDermott said.

Creighton's plan all along was to wear down the Crimson Tide.

"The plan was just to outrun them," Jones said. "They kept playing the same guys over and over. We have more depth than most teams we play. It was kind of like a stalemate. They weren't scoring, but we weren't catching up with them. We just knew we had to keep running on them."

At the end, though, Creighton had to have one stop.