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It was ugly. Creighton trailed Indiana State by 11. The Jays had one foot in the NCAA tournament and one in the NIT.
But there was a more pressing need than knowing where CU would play in March.
Like, do they have any Band-Aids or stitching thread left?
Absolutely. Creighton, after all, has a heck of a medical school.
Good thing. The logo for this team is a Band-Aid, like the one covering the seven stitches above Anthony Tolliver's eye late Wednesday night.
"I'm struggling," Tolliver said. "It's a rough game."
By now we know the Jays can handle it, even thrive on it.
After trailing by 14, Creighton won by five, 67-62, on another madcap night at the Qwest Center Omaha.
By now we know the drill. This is what Creighton does. This is who the Jays are.
Survivors. Brawlers. Blue-collar workers. Meat packers, minus the lotto tickets.
They aren't pretty. They don't have their star or their point guard. Their leading scorer on Wednesday night, Johnny Mathies, has played on a bum knee for a month. They seem to take great delight in falling into holes and seeing which way they can escape.
They have climbed every hill and swum every river in this bloody campaign. They have won 19 games.
And now, with one game left, they are alone in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference race.
Then again, maybe "tough man contest" would be a more apt description of what is taking place.
The Valley race is in near chaos. Arch Madness has already begun.
The Wichita State Shockers appear to have all but sewn up their first regular-season crown since 1983. The Shockers survived their own battle, 60-58, at Drake. Now WSU is alone at the top, at 13-4, with ninth-place Illinois State coming to Wichita for the net-cutting party Saturday.
The Jays, meanwhile, are a game back at 12-5 and headed for the Ozarks and Missouri State on Saturday night. But that might not last long.
One game behind CU at 11-6 are the trio of Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and MSU. One game behind them is Bradley.
The Valley is like a stock market crawl that changes by the basket.
A week ago, it looked like the Valley would get five teams in the NCAA tournament. Now, with Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois playing their way out, who knows how many bids the Valley gets?
Or, for that matter, who gets them? Missouri State and Bradley are suddenly on fire. The Valley had six teams in the top 51 RPI entering the week. It may come down to who's still standing a week from Saturday, in the two semifinal games of the Valley tournament in St. Louis.
"It will be interesting," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "We've just got to worry about Creighton."
That has been enough. The Jays again stumbled out of the gate Wednesday night, falling behind by 12 early and looking lethargic. Sometimes it looks like Altman doesn't start coaching them until halftime. Or maybe they don't listen until then.
Part of the problem was a zone Altman came out with against ISU. The Jays stood around on defense. Indiana State, with a healthy David Moss popping for 14, got open looks. Creighton, and the crowd, was lifeless.
Time to go to work. Altman challenged Mathies, the senior guard, on "Senior Night." He asked him if this is how he wanted to be remembered. The entire team apparently heard the question.
Here came the full-court pressure. Here came the transition steals, the dunks, the 3-pointers. And defense. Mathies and bruiser Nick Porter introduced themselves to Moss and held him scoreless.
"We need to get physical with him," Porter said. "Maybe his time off caught up with him."
Time has not caught up with the Jays yet this season. The survival of the fittest is just beginning. Better keep fresh bandages handy.
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