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The best part of Johnny Mathies' game might be the even-handed approach the Creighton guard brings to the court.
Whether he's torching Nebraska for 29 points, as he did in Sunday's 70-44 victory, or missing 10 straight 3-point shots, as he did in the Bluejays' previous two basketball games, Mathies is even-keeled to the max. No one needs to be concerned about Mathies pinballing to extremes on the emotional spectrum.
"Johnny's a guy who never panics out there," teammate Jimmy Motz said a couple of days before Mathies confounded the Huskers with a career-best performance. "We all know what he's capable of doing, we've all seen the big plays he's made the past three years. You don't worry about a guy like Johnny Mathies."
Mathies came into Sunday's game, which drew the largest crowd (15,621) to see a basketball game in Nebraska to Qwest Center Omaha, in the midst of the worst shooting slump in his three CU seasons. Mathies had made just 31.4 percent from the field in his first five games and had misfired on 13 of 16 shots (18.8 percent) from 3-point range.
Take away the 8-of-12 shooting night he enjoyed while scoring a then-career-high 24 points in a Nov. 26 win over Dayton, and Mathies' shooting percentage was .205.
Even though Mathies was missing in action at an alarming rate, the 6-foot native of Louisville, Ky., remained convinced that his next shot was going to be the one that snapped his slump.
"That's the attitude you have to take," Mathies said. "I think I'm a pretty good scorer and shooter, and I don't think I'm going to shoot like this forever. And if I don't shoot, I can never get out of it."
Against Nebraska, Mathies shot 15 times and made eight. Five of his baskets came from beyond the 3-point line, and he knocked down 8 of his 11 shots from the free-throw line. He also collected four rebounds, two assists, a blocked shot and three steals, and he set a never-back-down tone to Creighton's game.
He hit the floor in scrambles for loose balls. He went chin-to-chin with bigger Nebraska players who tried to bully him. He provided his teammates with an emotional lift with his play. He got the fans up out of their seats when he buried his first two 3-point attempts.
"Johnny Mathies really stepped up," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "I've been on him pretty hard after the last couple of games, and he really responded well. He did a nice job of competing."
Mathies couldn't have picked a better time to find his shot and provide the Bluejays with a sense of direction. Creighton played Sunday without leading scorer Nate Funk, out for perhaps the season with a shoulder injury.
Joining Funk on the bench were Motz, who suffered a stress fracture in an ankle Thursday, and Pierce Hibma, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury. Motz is out for three to six weeks, while Hibma remains sidelined indefinitely.
Given the circumstances, was Sunday Mathies' finest hour as a Bluejay?
"I don't know," he said. "I've been a part of some big wins since I've been here, but this definitely was a good one. All the odds seemed to be stacked in their favor, but we just played harder and wanted it more."
No one wanted it more than Mathies, who blossomed into one of the Missouri Valley Conference's best players after he was inserted into the starting lineup last season. He averaged 7.4 points in 11 games as a reserve and 13.8 points after moving into the starting lineup.
There have been times this season, especially against Chattanooga, that Mathies appeared to be trying to do too much. Mathies missed 10 of 13 shots, including all five of his 3-point attempts, and had three turnovers against the Mocs.
"I think Johnny's kind of caught in between," Altman said before Sunday's game. "He's not sure what's a good shot and what's not a good shot for him. I've got to help him there, and I haven't done a very good job of helping him out."
Whatever counsel Altman provided Mathies undoubtedly came with a dose of tough love. Asked if after Sunday's performance whether he would cut Mathies some slack, Altman smiled.
"Probably not," he said. "I guess I have to scream more at him, but he played really well. And it wasn't just the fact that the ball went in the hole. He did a lot of good things defensively."
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