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Creighton’s key defensive stops set up an exciting finish

Feb 19, 2012, 1:59 AM EDT

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Long Beach State is going to have to win its league’s automatic bid if it want to make the conference tournament.

That’s just the way life is for the 49ers. Their two marquee wins — at Pitt and Xavier on a neutral court — don’t appear to be all that “marquee” as the Panthers and the Musketeers have had disappointing seasons. LBSU will have a good shot of running through their league undefeated, but when you play in the Big West, that is a feat that gets scoffed at on a national scale. Anyone can watch this team play and know that, assuming they get upset in their conference tournament, they are one of the 37 best at-large candidates, but if the profile doesn’t fit, the NIT it is.

But that should also give you a sense of just how impressive Creighton’s exhilarating, 81-79 win over Long Beach State on Saturday night was.

The Bluejays did not play their best game. That powerhouse offense, the one that is spurred on by a flock of sharpshooters, sputtered on Saturday. Creighton went 5-23 from beyond the arc, getting bailed out by Doug McDermott going for 36 points and 11 boards. Take away the 14-20 that he shot from the field, and the Bluejays shot just 40% from the floor.

When you rely on your shooting to win basketball games, off-nights like this can be killer. Creighton knows. Its why they went on that three-game losing streak earlier this month.

I’m a firm believer in the “clutch-factor”. I think there are certain players and certain teams that have the mental and physical wherewithal to make plays in the moments when the lights shine the brightest and the pressure is at its strongest. And while that generally applies to the offensive end of the floor — like, for example, the fact that Antoine Young hit the game-winner on Saturday two weeks after hitting a game-tying three at Northern Iowa with 4.6 seconds left — Creighton needs to be clutch defensively.

What I mean is that this group needs to be able to get big stops in crucial moments. From an efficency standpoint, Creighton is not a great defensive team. They don’t force a lot of turnovers and they don’t block a lot of shots. In other words, they don’t have a lot of defensive playmakers. As a result, they have a defense that ranks below-average.

The Bluejays score enough that they can hang with just about anyone in the country. What their season is going to come down to, however, is whether or not they can get the big stops in the big moments.

They’ve done it before. They did it tonight. And if they can continue with that trend, Creighton will have a chance to make some noise in March.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

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