The last time Kenny Lawson Jr. stepped foot in St. Louis in October, it was to pick up Preseason MVC Player of the Year accolades. On Friday with Creighton’s MVC Tournament survival at stake, the senior center played like one with 18 points in Creighton’s 60-57 win over Northern Iowa.
Creighton scored the first eight points of the game and never trailed or were tied, but never could shake the pesky two-time defending champs from Northern Iowa.
Creighton ripped off the first eight points of the game behind six quick points from Doug McDermott. UNI would get within 19-17 and have a shot for the lead, but Jake Koch’s three-point try was errant and Jahenns Manigat answered with a three-pointer on CU’s next possession.
Creighton held UNI scoreless over the final 6:15 of the first half, scoring the last six points to take a 25-17 lead into intermission.
McDermott led Creighton with nine points and seven rebounds at the break, while Lawson had seven points. UNI shot just 8-of-27 for the half, and didn’t score after 2010 MVC Tournament MVP Kwadzo Ahelegbe was whistled for his second foul with 4:44 to play.
Creighton dominated the glass, 25-10, in the first half, but UNI had just one turnover and an 8-0 edge in points off turnovers.
UNI opened the second half with three early three-pointers, including two consecutive by Johnny Moran, to get within 32-30 with 14:09 left. But every time the Panthers made a dent in the lead, Creighton was there to answer.
Lawson was a huge part of that, as the preseason MVC Player of the Year made three three-pointers in the second half as the Jays went up 49-41 with six minutes to play.
The teams would trade scores down the stretch, a UNI’s Koch hit two big three-pointers to get the Panthers within 54-50 with 3:27 to go. CU’s Ahelegbe hit a triple with 1:53 remaining to get UNI within one.
After an Antoine Young lay-up gave the Jays a three-point edge, Ahelegbe hit a step-back jumper following an offensive rebound with 59 seconds left.
Young would miss on CU’s next trip, but Lawson was there for the stickback. Ahelegbe missed on the other end. Kaleb Korver got the rebound and threw it far ahead, but Manigat would miss the wide-open lay-up.
UNI got the board and called timeout with 7.4 ticks left. Ahelegbe’s leaning three-pointer for the tie was tightly contested by Manigat, as CU finally came out ahead in a season full of close losses.
Lawson led CU with 18 points, while McDermott had 16 points and seven rebounds. Young also had 11 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Creighton shot 42.3 percent for the game and were 8-of-16 from downtown. CU owned the glass, 39-24.
Koch led UNI with 15 points, while Ahelegbe had 14 points and six rebounds.The Panthers shot 42.9 percent for the game and had just four turnovers on the day.
With the win, Creighton advances to Saturday’s 1:35 pm semifinal against regular-season league champ Missouri State.
The Bears scored the final 11 points of the game to beat Southern Illinois, 58-56, including a game-winning lay-up with 1.4 seconds left by Valley Player of the Year Kyle Weems.