The only hotter hands than Sayeed Pridgett suited up for the host Bluejays in Omaha on Wednesday night.
Pridgett poured in 21 points in the first 16 minutes of the game to keep the Griz in the game in front of a near sellout crowd of 16,457 fans at CHI Health Center. But even the best shooting night of Pridgett’s career nor a 21-point, nine-rebound effort from senior guard Michael Oguine could help the Grizzlies overcome Creighton’s 3-point barrage.
A team that hit at least 10 3-pointers in each of its three wins to claim the Cayman Islands Classic last week poured in triple after triple on Wednesday, burying a short-handed Griz team over the final 22 minutes of the game. Creighton hit 13 triples in 24 attempts and shot 60.4 percent from the field overall in a runaway 98-72 victory over Montana on Wednesday night.
“For us, the biggest thing is our attention to detail and our discipline. I think we had some stretches where our mental toughness was challenged, and we didn’t respond very well,” Montana fifth-year head coach Travis DeCuire said after his squad fell to 4-2 this season. “Our stats offensively were good, but we needed to scrap, and right now I don’t feel like we’re grinding the way we should grind defensive possessions.”
Pridgett, Montana’s versatile do-everything junior, entered UM’s contest with Creighton in Nebraska’s capital city with one made 3-pointer this season. The 6-foot-5 slasher is one of the best finishers at the rim on the Griz roster and in the Big Sky Conference. But before Wednesday, he had made five 3-pointers in 69 career games.
The Oakland native hit four 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes to keep the Griz in the game with one of college basketball’s most consistently successful programs. Pridgett scored 21 points in the first half, his final bucket of the opening 20 minutes a layup that cut Creighton’s lead to 40-38 with 3:45 until halftime.
“They were all good shots,” DeCuire said. “Every one of them was inside out, an extra pass on the rotation that was an example of how we move the ball. Right now we’re taking turns. If we can get two or three guys going at the same time, we can be a pretty good basketball team.”
With UM senior center Jamar Akoh sidelined for the fifth straight game with a wrist injury and sophomore combo guard Timmy Falls absent for the second straight game because of an undisclosed issue, Montana was short a big man and a ball handler against a Jays’ squad that beat No. 16 Clemson 87-82 a week ago.
Early, Creighton pounded the ball into the post to Martin Krampelj, a 6-foot-10 junior from Slovenia and Jacob Epperson, a 6-foot-11 sophomore from Australia who went to high school in Indiana. Those two were far too much for UM freshmen posts Kelby Kramer and Mack Anderson to handle.
Krampelj scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half. His layup with 1:18 before halftime gave Creighton its biggest lead of the first half, 49-38. He hit his only 3-pointer 1:17 into the second half to give Creighton a 54-40 lead before taking a seat for most of the rest of the game.
In his place, Epperson provided energy, offensive rebounding and rim protection as Creighton won the battle of the boards 34-20 on a night when the two teams combined to shoot 58 percent from the floor.
The Creighton big men helped foul the 6-foot-11 Kramer out in 13 minutes of action and had the 6-foot-9 Anderson flustered on more than a few defensive possessions.
“We had freshmen trying to execute our ball-screen coverage that aren’t very experienced and are playing in front of 17,000 people,” DeCuire lamented after leading his team in front of the second-largest road crowd in Montana history. “Then, no low-post presence to throw the ball into forces us to create a lot of bounce, and I think our lack of patience was the biggest issue.”
Creighton turned a two-point lead late in the first half into an 18-point lead thanks to a 20-4 run capped by a Davion Mintz triple less than four minutes into the second half. The Bluejays did not miss their first shot of until the eight-minute mark of the first half and made seven of their 10 attempts from deep before halftime, then carried the hot shooting into the second stanza.
Ahmaad Rorie, the preseason Big Sky MVP, converted a bucket in traffic with 12:19 left to play for his first field goal on a night. He finished 2-of-8 for just eight points, just the eight time in 71 career games at Montana the senior has been failed to reach double figures scoring. That score cut the Creighton lead to 12, 68-56. The Jays went on a 22-9 run to push the lead to 25, where the advantage stayed the final six minutes of the game.
Five Bluejays scored in double figures led by Damien Jefferson’s 18 points thanks to a perfect 3-of-3 night from deep. Krampelj scored 17, Mitch Ballock drilled four 3-pointers on the way to 14 points and Creighton’s leading scorer Ty’Shon Alexander hit a pair of 3-pointers, including a step-back from 25 feet with Bobby Moorehead’s hand in his face for the first of what seemed like an endless string of 3s from the hosts on Wednesday night.
“Our biggest thing right now is our mental toughness defensively and our discipline. We have rules that we play by on both sides of the ball, and right now we’re not sticking to them,” DeCuire said. “We have too many guys right now that think there are too many exceptions to the rules, and quite a few guys are playing a lot of minutes regardless of how well they play or execute, and it’s hard to hold guys accountable when you’re so thin. Until we can solve that, we’re going to continue to struggle.”