The freshman guard scored 17 first-half points and dove for loose balls while trying to keep the Hoosiers in contention during IU’s (4-5) 90-73 loss to Kentucky (10-0).
Creek ended the game with 31 points and became the first IU freshman to score more than 30 points against the Wildcats.
No other player had done so since freshmen became eligible to play varsity in the 1972-73 season.
The last IU player to score 30 points against Kentucky was former IU guard Bracey Wright, who was a junior at the time. Before Wright, IU Hall of Famer Steve Downing’s 47-point effort on Dec. 11, 1971, was the most recent instance where an IU player crossed the 30-point mark against the Wildcats.
IU coach Tom Crean called the first player to score 30 since Eric Gordon tallied 31 against Illinois State on Nov. 23, 2007, “a high-level player” after the game.
Kentucky coach John Calipari has coached against some of the best college talent in the U.S. His prior experience didn’t stop him from talking up Creek’s performance Saturday.
“How about this Creek kid?” he said. “I’m telling you, we’ve played a lot of good teams. He’s as good as any player we’ve played. And that’s how you start to build a program. You get guys like him and Christian.”
Freshman forward Christian Watford was the second-leading scorer for the Hoosiers.
He had seven points, only two of which were scored in the second half.
The Hoosiers only mustered 32 points on 33 percent shooting in the last half of the game, while Kentucky scored 48 points and shot 50 percent from the field.
The difference, once again, was Creek.
Calipari challenged his players to stop the guard. Kentucky point guard Eric Bledsoe had been charged with the task of keeping Creek from touching the ball.
“Creek was so good all we said was don’t even worry about playing anybody – ‘Don’t help, you play him,’” Calipari said. “And the first play of the half Eric left him and gave him a three. I said, ‘Did I talk at halftime or were you not listening?’”
Bledsoe heard Calipari clearly, and he made sure to slow IU’s surge toward an upset.
He also put in 23 points of his own.
Creek’s 3-pointer at the 19:17 mark tied the game at 44.
The shot would be his last bucket before he hit two free throws at 7:41 with IU trailing 76-61 after he downed the shots.
Other players struggled to produce without Creek providing the shooting he had in the first half.
IU settled for long shots and had defensive lapses which led to a 49-24 Kentucky advantage in rebounding. The Wildcats posted 21 of those boards on the offensive glass, and scored 30 second-chance points.
Calipari’s rationale behind the disparity was simple.
“We were bigger than them,” he said. “It’s what we are, and they got in a little foul trouble. We’re a big team.”
Crean subscribed to the same school of thought, pointing out the difference in size for a team that started 6-foot-11 DeMarcus Cousins and 6-foot-9 Patrick Patterson.
“I mean, look at us. You think we look like them in the size and strength area?” Crean asked. “C’mon, you’re at the same game I’m at.”
Creek was subbed out when IU was down 54-48 and returned to a 60-48 Kentucky lead that would only continue to climb.
The freshman would not wilt.
Creek had 14 points and two steals in the second half. He shot 9-of-14 on field goals and went 5-of-8 from 3-point range.
He didn’t hesitate when pursuing the ball, either. Creek dove into the courtside seating and gained possession for IU as the ball went out of bounds for a Kentucky player.
The night for Creek began with a long 3-pointer that placed the first points of the game on the scoreboard.
It finished with a standing ovation from the crowd, which chanted his name on several occasions.
IU had unexpectedly challenged one of the country’s best teams for more than 20 minutes.
That first half ended with IU down 42-41 and shooting 63 percent. It began with Creek.
“I just put up shots and started hitting, and everybody fell into play,” Creek said. “That was where the spark came in.”
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