Greg McDermott happily awaited Arthur Kaluma, his hands extended at his waist waiting for Kaluma’s to slap them as the sophomore forward approached the bench.
Kaluma hadn’t played the minutes he typically would because of foul trouble. With Providence shaving down CU’s once comfortable lead to tie things up with eight minutes left, McDermott didn’t see a choice. He was going to let his starters give whatever they had left to the Friars to secure a necessary win at the CHI Health Center.
And with 59 seconds to go on Saturday, moments after Kaluma’s final layup, it was clear: CU’s starting lineup delivered.
“I think we felt like it was slipping away and we needed (Baylor Scheierman) and Art back on the floor,” McDermott said. “It’s really one of the first games this year that we’ve had to play with that kind of foul trouble. … Really proud of the guys for the way they responded once they tied it.”
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Days removed from a loss at Xavier that saw Creighton’s fate fall into Scheierman’s hands, he expressed to the media that every game holds weight now. The Jays couldn’t afford to slip up Saturday.
He carried that sentiment into the game, along with his hot hand, to appear unguardable through 20 minutes. Scheierman seemingly forgot he wasn’t in the Cintas Center anymore.
Scheierman finished the first half 7 for 11 from the field, drilling three 3s to lift Creighton while Kaluma sat through foul trouble and until the rest of his teammates caught up.
Though Providence aimed to run the Jays off the 3-point line, Scheierman’s few shots from deep opened the lanes even further, allowing him a couple takes to the rim. At one point in the second half, he even threw down a dunk — just his second this season.
It didn’t hurt that junior center Ryan Kalkbrenner put a lid over the rim, sliding into all the right spaces and altering a heap of the shots that he didn’t get a hand on.
Creighton intended to handle how often Providence draws whistles. By the end of the night, the Jays shot eight more free throws than the Friars.
“One of our principles in general is not fouling, playing with our hands back and making them make tough shots,” Kalkbrenner said. “…We just got back to doing what we do.”
The Friars continued to chip at Kalkbrenner, though, with PC forward Ed Crosswell challenging him. If it wasn’t Croswell, Friar guards were probing for any sliver of air around him. He dished some of it back to finish with 21 points and seven rebounds.
By the end of the first half, Creighton had its foot on Providence’s neck. The Jays handled much of their business inside the arc, punishing the Friars en route to 26 points in the paint through 20 minutes.
The Friars shot just 38% from the field on the day.
Behind Kalkbrenner’s rim deterrence, Creighton distanced itself. Sophomore Trey Alexander caught on shortly after Scheierman, finishing through contact a couple times to get going. He finished with 20 points.
Creighton’s double-digit lead at halftime was hefty, but not impossible to lift.
Providence forward Bryce Hopkins, who’s stamped a fairly strong case to this point for Big East Player of the Year, was in McDermott’s sights entering Saturday. How effectively Kaluma defended him without fouling was always going to alter the game.
“More than anything, you’ve gotta be focused on what the team has going on,” Kaluma said. “You can’t just be caught up in like ‘Oh, this matchup is gonna be crazy.’ If my role today was just to not score and just guard him, I would’ve done that. Just focusing on trying to get a win.”
Hopkins managed a couple of first-half fouls himself, so the Jays hadn’t felt his full wrath. Not yet. With Kaluma picking up a third foul relatively early, Hopkins surged to add another installment to his incredible season, finishing with 20 points.
Scheierman picked up successive fouls before McDermott was forced to yank him, too. The minutes that ensued weren’t exactly pretty. When McDermott gave Kalkbrenner some rest a few minutes later, the Friars chipped at CU’s lead.
Creighton faced a critical juncture. It’d been here before, faced with a chance to secure a win down the stretch.
With under eight minutes to play, coach Greg McDermott let his starting five run loose despite the fouls they’d tacked on.
“We went back with Baylor with four fouls sooner than we would’ve liked to,” McDermott said. “That’s a risky proposition if he fouls out with eight minutes left.
“At that point we didn’t really have a choice.”
McDermott wiped his hands with it, trusting in his closing group. It worked out, with Creighton finding a way to win the game without depending on the 3-ball to fall.
From Alexander’s lob to Kalkbrenner, who finished without looking at the basket as the seconds on the shot clock fell to single digits. To Kalkbrenner’s stops at the rim, which the Jays turned around to make the Friars pay for costly mistakes.
Hopkins held his own down to the final minute, contorting his body to finish through contact once more. But it was Kaluma who’d have the final say. His three buckets around the rim in those final minutes appeared as important as any. The work he’d put in in recent weeks — the work Creighton put in this month — came full circle.
“To tie the game up, Bryce Hopkins actually hit the 3,” Kaluma said. “It was a bad contest on my part, and he started talking to me. I really do feed off of that. I enjoy that type of talk. So I wasn’t going to try and do anything crazy, but I knew if I had the opportunity, I was going to be able to take it.
“Got my first one, and it felt good. The rest was history.”