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It seemed six weeks ago that the sky was falling on the Creighton basketball team.
With a victory today over Evansville, the Bluejays will reach the midpoint of the Missouri Valley Conference season sharing the top spot in the standings.
Evidently, reports of Creighton's demise were greatly exaggerated.
These Bluejays have shown to be a lot tougher than most people figured after they lost star guard Nate Funk, Jimmy Motz and Pierce Hibma in the span of a week in early December.
"We have a lot of fighters on this team," Creighton guard Nick Porter said. "I'm not surprised by what's happened. I thought we would be in first place if we had Nate. When he went down, I knew we still had a lot of talent on this team.
"And right now, it looks like we're starting to click."
Creighton takes a five-game winning streak into the 2:05 p.m. game against the struggling Aces at Qwest Center Omaha. The Bluejays stand 12-4 overall, and a win over the 5-11 Purple Aces would keep them tied for the Valley lead with half the conference season to play.
The Bluejays have won nine of 12 games since Funk was injured in a Nov. 30 loss to DePaul. Two of the losses came with Funk back on the court, testing his injured shoulder to determine whether he could play or need season-ending surgery.
Creighton is unbeaten since Motz and Hibma returned in early January. Junior center Anthony Tolliver has blossomed into one of the best big men in the league, guard Johnny Mathies remains an electrifying performer and Porter is playing at a level that could earn him a spot on the Valley's all-newcomers team.
The rest of the Bluejays are stepping up to provide plays on both ends of the court.
"Before the season, we talked about how this might be the deepest team that Dana has had at Creighton," Tolliver said. "If this would have happened any other year, it might have been a disaster. But we're so deep that we have good players at every single position."
Creighton coach Dana Altman found himself down to eight scholarship players and walk-on Dustin Sitzmann for a three-game stretch in December. With the exception of Funk and center Steve Smith (back injury), Altman's roster is back to full strength.
"For the most part, guys have accepted their roles and they've tried to play really hard," Altman said. "We've been a little inconsistent. I thought we could be more consistent than we've been, but our guys have tried to compete. Hopefully, they'll continue that."
The Bluejays will need to be, as the schedule toughens after today's game against an Evansville team that has lost four in a row and is 0-8 on the road this season. The Purple Aces have lost their past 17 games away from home.
Seven of Creighton's first nine games have come against teams in the bottom half of the Valley standings. The Bluejays face an upcoming stretch in which it will play the other top teams in the league - Tuesday at Southern Illinois, Saturday at home against Wichita State and Jan. 31 at home against Northern Iowa.
Overall, six of Creighton's nine games in the second half of the league season will be against the four teams in the upper division of the standings.
"We're going to have plenty of opportunities to show what we can do," Altman said.
The Bluejays already have shown plenty of grit to overcome the adversity that threatened to leave the season in shambles just as it was beginning.
"We have a lot of trust and faith in each other, and no one gave up on the season," Creighton forward Dane Watts said. "I don't think anyone within the program thought the sky was falling. That's just a testament to the faith that we have in each other and in the coaching staff.
"If we keep playing hard, good things are going to happen."
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