On the first official night of the college basketball season, the Creighton Bluejays joined many schools across the country in hosting a Midnight Madness event. The fans packed D.J. Sokol Arena to get their first glimpse of the 2012-13 Creighton men's and women's basketball teams, and the two teams put on a show.
The night began with player interviews for both teams. Omaha native and senior Josh Jones got a pretty loud ovation when his name was called, but the house went crazy when All-American Doug McDermott ran out sporting the goggles of teammate Gregory Echenique. The introductions would set the tone for the entire night, as the packed house kept the noise going throughout.
The first event showed off on area of the game that is going to be key for both teams this season: the 3-ball. Players from the men's and women's teams paired up for a team 3-point shootout.
Defending champions Grant Gibbs and Jordan Garrison went out in the first round, after the senior guard decided not to keep his warm-ups on for the contest. Last year, Gibbs shot while wearing his warm-ups and channeled his inner Larry Bird all the way to victory.
The duo of Dougie Fresh and his partner Ally Jensen and the pairing of freshman Isaiah Zierden and the younger Jensen Sammy posted the top scores in each of the first round to advance to the finals.
The Jensen sisters went head-to-head to start and Ally came out on top with nine makes to Sammy's eight, but Zierden outshot McDermott 10-8 to make the final tally 18-17 in favor of the underclassmen. I picked the Isaiah/Sammy team to win it all when I heard the pairings, so thanks to those two for making me look smart.
Zierden is no stranger to 3-point contests as he placed second in the national high school 3-point shootout last year, where a buzzer-beating shot by his opponent ended his run. But Zierden (who made 29 3s over the course of three rounds) wasn't the only reason for the win, as Sammy has a deadly stroke in her own right.
"I had a great partner," Zierden said. "I couldn't have done it without her."
Following the 3-point contest, the women's team took the court for a short scrimmage. Junior guard Jordan Garrison led her white squad to a 16-12 victory with five points. The 5-5 guard also chipped in three rebounds. Both figures tied her unofficially for the lead in each category.
Freshman point guard Marissa Janning made her debut in front of the Creighon fans and did pretty well, hitting a 3-pointer and finding a teammate for a nice assist while she was out there.
"She's a great newcomer for us," Sammy Jensen said about Janning. "She's the Minnesota Player of the Year. She's really good with the ball, really good off the ball, defense, so she does everything."
Janning could play significant minutes right away at the point, which would allow leading scorer Carli Tritz (who sat out the festivities) to slide back to her more natural spot on the wing.
Next up, the high-flyers took the court for the dunk contest. Freshman walk-on forward Mogboluwaga "Mo" Oginni started things off with a bang by launching himself over a seated team manager and finishing with a powerful jam. It was a nice dunk but after last year, it wasn't going to cut it.
Creighton 6-Footer Austin Chatman Dunks Over 7-Footer Geoff Groselle (Oct. 14, 2011) (via CreightonAthletics)
That was last year's champion freshman Austin Chatman (by the way, as someone who has stood next to and played alongside Chatman, he might, might be 6-feet tall on his tippy toes).
Sophomore center Will "Big Swag" Artino was up next. Junior guard Jahenns "The Canadian Red Bull" Manigat stepped in to play set-up man for his teammate and laid it up off the side of the backboard for the trailing Artino, who finished the pass with a 360 dunk.
Creighton MBB: Will Artino's Round 1 Dunk (10/12/12) (via CreightonAthletics)
I had talked with Artino on Twitter before the contest, and he told me he was working on something but wasn't sure if he could get it. Turns out, he did.
"Yeah, the first one was the one we were working on," Artino said. "I hadn't got it until last night after practice, and then Mo got his first on and I was like, 'J, I'm going to go for it.' Then he said 'Just do it, you can make it.' I was like 'I'm going for it,' and it worked out."
"Big Swag" was a tough act to follow, but freshman guard Nevin Johnson went with a nice reverse clutch two-hand finish for his first round dunk.
The defending champ Chatman went last and came out looking to repeat. The diminutive point guard tossed himself a bounce alley-oop, went up to get the ball and finished on the far side of the rim.
The first round was perfect, but Oginni started out round two with a couple of misses before finishing with a two-hand power jam.
Artino decided to pay homage to Creighton's nationally ranked soccer team by replicating the header dunk Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire used in the 2005 NBA Dunk Contest.
Creighton MBB: Will Artino's Round 2 Dunk (10/12/12) (via CreightonAthletics)
Johnson knew he had to pull off something big with his second dunk, and he gave a valiant effort, but ultimately he had to settle for a pretty basic power dunk.
Not to be outdone by Artino, Chatman again went to the bounce alley-oop, only this time he finished with a right-handed windmill flush.
The vote was out to the crowd, but it was too close to call between Artino and Chatman. So Manigat called for one more dunk for each of the two finalists to determine the winner.
Artino consulted with Manigat before his final dunk and again had the Canadian guard set him up.
"I had four different ones planned," Artino said, "but I had no idea what to do and [Manigat] was like, 'Just follow me. I'm going to go and throw it up and you're just going to dunk it. I got you.'"
That's precisely what he did as Manigat tossed it off the glass and Artino finished with a reverse slam.
Creighton MBB: Will Artino's Rd. 3 Dunk (10/12/12) (via CreightonAthletics)
Chatman attempted a between the legs dunk that likely would have won him the contest, but he couldn't find the handle as time ran out without him getting it down, making Artino the champion by default.
A 16-minute scrimmage by the men closed out the evening. Senior center Gregory Echenique dominated inside and led his White team to the 31-23 victory over the blue. Echenique had between 12 and 15 points in the game (not quite sure, the scoring was a bit tricky), including three dunks.
"You can throw it anywhere and he'll go get it," Zierden said about feeding Echenique in the post. "That's what you've got to love about Greg. He's just a big body in there."
At on point, Echenique pulled down a rebound, started the break himself and found Ethan Wragge on the perimeter for a trey. Wragge did what Wragge does: he hit three treys.
Zierden came in and immediately hit a 3-pointer, then dished to a big man in the pick-and-roll for a nice assist. Obviously the shooting is his greatest asset, but Zierden can also run the pick-and-roll, something he said he is comfortable with and something that will help him in the back-up point guard competition.
On the other team, Doug McDermott had a tough night -- even missing a dunk in warm-ups right before the game -- missing six of his seven shots. Two freshman picked up the slack and kept the blue team from getting completely blown out.
Johnson, coming off a redshirt season, scored a team-high eight points, including a couple put-backs and a nice jumper off the dribble.
True freshman point guard Andre Yates also played well finishing with seven points and a couple of assists. The highlight of the entire scrimmage came late in the game when Yates attacked the basket and seemingly hung forever before releasing the ball right before hitting the ground and kissing it off the glass for two.
Although there were a few highlights, the scrimmage itself wasn't played at a particularly high level.
"Everybody's still rusty," Artino said. "The offense is nowhere near set. It was pretty ugly."
Ugly display or no, the fan still got plenty of enjoyment out of the night if the crowd noise was any indication. Both the men's and women's teams are coming off of MVC Tournament titles and are poised to have big seasons.