Creighton hit its final 19 free throw attempts to defeat Missouri State, 76-72, in a back-and-forth men’s basketball game that featured 14 second-half lead changes on Sunday night at Qwest Center Omaha.
Creighton evened its record to 10-10 on the year and is tied for third in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 5-4 league mark. Missouri State dropped to 14-6 overall and is 4-5 at the midpoint of conference action.
Creighton hit 5-of-7 shots to open the game and take an early 12-5 lead, only to watch as MSU’s offense come back to go on a 21-7 run and build a 32-23 lead late in the first half. During its extended drought, CU made just 1-of-9 shots from the floor over a 10-minute stretch.
Down nine points, the Bluejays closed the first half with a 12-2 run to claim a 35-34 halftime advantage. Cavel Witter led that charge, scoring CU’s final six points before intermission. The surge was huge because MSU was 11-0 when leading at half and Creighton had been 0-7 when down at the break.
Nafis Ricks had 10 points and five rebounds in the first half to lead MSU in nine minutes off the bench, while the Jays had two players with six points, Witter and Darryl Ashford at the intermission.
Creighton trailed for most of the second half, but would get back to even on two free throws with Witter just before the eight-minute mark, knotting the score at 55-all. The final 6:15 would feature 10 lead changes and four ties.
The Bluejays would trail by two when Kenny Lawson Jr. converted a three-point play with 3:06 to go. MSU’s Kyle Weems would drain two free throws with 2:25 to go to give MSU a one-point lead, something the disappeared when Justin Carter buried a huge three-pointer with 1:58 that would give CU a short-lived two-point lead.
Missouri State’s Jermaine Mallett answered with a three-pointer with 1:33 left, giving the Bears their final lead at 69-68. On Creighton’s ensuing possession, Antoine Young would find Lawson inside, who thundered home a dunk that gave the Jays the lead for good with 57.9 left.
MSU would come out of a timeout and get the ball to Adam Leonard, who airballed a three-pointer from the top of the key. Leonard, who entered the game averaging 12.8 points and with a league-high 53 trifectas, would finish the night 0-of-7 from the field and did not score in 31 minutes.
CU would inbound the ball to Ashford with 39.0 seconds left, who was immediately fouled. He sank both foul shots to give the Jays a three-point lead.
Missouri State came out of a timeout and worked it inside, but Nafis Ricks couldn’t handle a pass from Mallett in traffic and Ashford once again was fouled. He sank both with 12.1 ticks left, putting the Bluejay lead at a more comfortable 74-69.
Weems would sink a long three-pointer with 6.1 seconds left to cut the Bluejay margin to two points, but Witter would end the drama with two free throws with 4.9 seconds left to close an 8-for-8 night at the line.
Creighton entered the game last in the MVC at the foul line, making just 65.2 percent of its free throws in league play entering the day, but on this night the free throws were the difference. After a 1-for-5 start that included two missed front-ends, CU would make its final 19 shots at the line and shoot 81.3 percent from the charity stripe overall (26-32). CU also shot 48.9 percent from the floor and 26.7 percent from three-point territory.
Lawson scored 15 of his 20 points after intermission, while Ashford (15) and Witter (10) also reached double-figures. Lawson and Ashford also tied for game-high honors with six rebounds, while Young had five assists without a turnover in the win.
MSU was led by a career-high 18 points from Ricks, while Mallett (13), Will Creekmore (12) and Weems (10) also scored in double-figures. The Bears shot 41.4 percent for the game from the field, 23.5 percent from three-point range and 83.3 percent at the line (20-24).
Creighton returns to action on Wednesday with a 7:05 pm game at Bradley. That game can be heard on KXSP (Big Sports 590 AM).