OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — As St. Thomas threatened to pull the biggest upset of college basketball's opening day, Creighton's Baylor Scheierman didn't sweat it.
“There was never any panic,” Scheierman said. “I don’t ever really panic on the floor. I’m pretty calm."
Anxiety surely was building Monday night among the 17,098 fans at CHI Health Center before Scheierman made back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the second half to give No. 9 Creighton the lead for good in a 72-60 victory.
St. Thomas, a Summit League member beginning its second season in Division I, started three holdovers from its Division III era and gave the Bluejays all they could handle.
“Coming into it, we got nothing to lose,” Tommies guard Riley Miller said. “We should get killed here on the road against a top team in the country, especially being our second year in Division I. So we said let’s give them all we have, and if it works out, it works out.”
The Tommies’ defensive plan was to pack the inside where Creighton's Ryan Kalkbrenner patrols and take their chances with the Bluejays shooting 3s.
It worked. The Bluejays were just 8 for 34 from distance.
“When you’ve got a 7-foot-1 guy down there, you’ve got to muck up the paint, so we were willing to live with some late-contested 3s,” Miller said.
Brooks Allen hit consecutive 3s to put the Tommies up 57-56 with 10 minutes left.
Creighton finally took control at that point, with Scheierman’s back-to-back 3s and dunks by Kalkbrenner and Arthur Kaluma starting a 14-0 run. Meanwhile, the Tommies got mired in a seven-minute scoring drought.
“There’s going to be a time where we're playing a team somewhere in Big East play or later in this nonconference where we’re not making shots, and you have to figure out a way to win," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I hope we’ll be able to look back on tonight.”
Creighton led by 15 points 10 minutes into the game, but the Bluejays missed five straight 3s and 13 of their next 17 shots overall, and that allowed the Tommies to pull within 37-35.
Ryan Nembhard's 3 with one second left sent the Bluejays to the locker room with a 40-35 lead, but the Tommies tied it in the first two minutes of the second half and McDermott was forced to leave some of his starters in until the end.
“Obviously, it’s tough losing," Miller said. “I think coming in here against a top team in the country, in this atmosphere with a lot of young guys, we showed we can play with anyone in the country. Even though it stinks that we lost, and we thought we had a chance to win, it was a success.”
St. Thomas: The Tommies represented themselves well in what should be, by far, their toughest nonconference game. The showing against a top-10 team on the road could foretell a better season than expected for the team picked eighth in the 10-team Summit League.
Creighton: Expectations are extremely high for one of the most talent-rich teams in the country, and now McDermott has to figure out his combinations. They were able to get away with poor shooting against St. Thomas. That won't work against most opponents they face.
Arthur Kaluma scored 17 points, Trey Alexander had 12 and Scheierman added 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Bluejays. ... Andrew Rohde had 15 points, Allen 14 and Miller 13 for the Tommies. ... Alexander had three of Creighton's six blocked shots. ... Creighton won its 25th opener in 26 years.
St. Thomas plays back-to-back home games, against Chicago State on Friday and St. Francis Brooklyn on Sunday.
Creighton plays the second of four straight home games against North Dakota on Thursday.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25