By John Fanta
OMAHA – There’s normally plenty of roars at the Centurylink Center for Creighton Men’s Basketball. On Saturday night, though, there was a particularly special one with 13:39 left in the first half of an 85-77 Bluejay victory over Georgetown.
Australian freshman Jacob Epperson entered to a standing ovation. A minute later, the 6-11 center proved that the hype is real. Rolling off a screen, the Aussie whammed home a two-hand jam at the 12:40 mark. The script couldn’t have been better for the opening minute of Epperson’s career. And the roar of the capacity crowd was as if a savior had stepped on the floor.
With Martin Krampelj suffering a torn ACL against Seton Hall on Jan. 17, the Jays’ frontcourt took a severe blow. And while the plan was for Epperson to redshirt after a knee injury and lack of conditioning, circumstances changed.
“Coach Mac (Greg McDermott) brought me into his office Friday,” said Epperson. “He asked me if I wanted to play and said ‘we need you.’ I’ve wanted to play a long time now, having missed a lot of games. I figured it was time. I’ve got a bit of weight on me now.”
The other circumstance of the decision to lift the redshirt off Epperson was thought to be what his parents would say. However, they left it up to their son.
“They told me, ‘Do whatever you think. It’s up to you,’ said Epperson. “They left the decision to me.”
Epperson played nine minutes, finishing with two points and two rebounds. It wasn’t so much his impact on the game, but what his impact can be with Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, who combined for 50 points. The redshirt doesn’t get lifted if McDermott doesn’t see this team as one that can roll deep in March. Epperson provides the interior dimension that the Jays greatly could use to accomplish that goal.
In terms of the game itself, Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas went punch for punch with Creighton for most of the night. The difference was found in the final minutes of the first half. The Jays closed the opening stanza on a 16-0 romp, bookended by two Marcus Foster treys.
With 13:13 remaining in regulation, it looked all but over with CU up 16, but Georgetown flipped the script and hammered out a 29-14 surge of their own. A jumper by Marcus Derrickson followed by a Jonathan Mulmore three cut the deficit to a point with 4:25 on the clock.
After Creighton’s Toby Hegner drilled a trey, the pleasant surprise of the night for the Hoyas answered. Jahvon Blair drilled a three, one of five on the night for the freshman in a career-high 21-point performance.
After a missed shot by the Jays, Blair gave the ball away, though. That led to Thomas capitalizing with an and-1 play to build the lead back to four. After a series of missed shots, Davion Mintz hit the dagger for Creighton to boost the advantage to 76-70 with 1:23 to go.
Creighton boosted its record to 17-5 and stands at third with a 7-3 mark in the BIG EAST. The Jays next visit #1 Villanova on Thursday at 6:30 PM ET. The Hoyas suffered the week sweep in two close losses to DePaul and the Jays, and stand at 13-8 overall and 3-7 in the BIG EAST. The Hoyas have a midweek bye before continuing a three-game road swing at #8 Xavier on Saturday at 5 PM ET.
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