Second-half run helps Creighton basketball roll past Montana to win fourth straight game

Second-half run helps Creighton basketball roll past Montana to win fourth straight game
Martin Krampelj dunks over Montana’s Mack Anderson and was effective in the paint as he finished with 17 points in 21 minutes. CU coach Greg McDermott said Krampelj “looked as comfortable as he has all season.” BRENDAN SULLIVAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

Creighton’s players began this week with a film session.

They weren’t there to revel in their successes at the Cayman Islands Classic, when they shredded defenses, gained confidence and raised outsiders’ eyebrows. Nor were they there to get themselves hyped for the matchup everyone else has been talking about — the nation’s top team, Gonzaga, comes to Omaha on Saturday.

They started by watching clips from one game: Montana vs. Michigan in the NCAA tournament last season. The Grizzlies, assertive and tenacious, jumped to a 10-0 lead on the national runners-up.

And that caught the Bluejays’ attention.

Their focus never wavered Wednesday en route to a 98-72 victory as they overwhelmed a Montana squad that returned all but one of its rotation players from last year’s 26-win team.

“When we watched it on film, we were like, ‘Oh, they’re a really good team,’” sophomore Damien Jefferson said. “We can’t worry about Gonzaga. We’ve got to take it one game at a time.”

The performance wasn’t perfect. The Jays turned it over 10 times in the first half and struggled to keep Montana (4-2) from creating high-percentage looks.

But the same end-to-end pace, floor spacing and ball movement that helped spark CU last week was on display again Wednesday.

Creighton (6-1) made its first seven shots. On a 10-possession stretch late in the first half, it scored on nine of those trips — totaling 19 points in less than five minutes.

Then the Jays really got hot.

They produced points on eight of their first nine possessions after halftime, leading 68-50 after that spurt. CU used a 13-3 run soon after to extinguish any chances of a Montana rally.

Creighton finished with a season-best 60.4 shooting percentage — the highest the Grizzlies have allowed in nearly three years.

“I thought our guys did a good job of getting into the paint, setting their feet and making that extra pass,” coach Greg McDermott said. “Obviously, we’re shooting the ball at a high level right now. Guys are sharing it.”

He marveled a bit, too, at the Jays’ balance. No one took more than nine shots.

Four starters scored in double figures, led by Damien Jefferson’s 18 points and Martin Krampelj’s 17. Five players overall were in double figures — Davion Mintz had nine and Jacob Epperson added seven.

It was reminiscent of the scoring barrages CU had last week.

And McDermott was glad to see that. He wasn’t sure how his team would respond. As a matter of fact, he said afterward that he was “scared to death” of Wednesday’s trap game.

The Grizzlies’ guard-heavy lineup — they were missing big man Jamar Akoh — could have given Creighton fits all night.

But the Jays were ready, even with the recent success and the looming showdown against Gonzaga.

“For them to get locked in is a credit to them, especially a young team,” McDermott said. “We had a lot of contributions from a lot of guys (Wednesday). Obviously we’re going to need that again Saturday.”

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