Maurice Creek laid face down on the hardwood, his head buried into the back of his hands. Waves of gold and white confetti showered over the court after the Golden Eagles’ Travis Diener hit a game-winning 3-pointer to capture a The Basketball Tournament title over former IU basketball’s Creek and Remy Abell.
Shouts of “let’s go” from the Golden Eagles sounded across the fanless stadium as Creek sat up, his head bobbing through sobs. Through a sheet of confetti that masked the floor, teammate Jamel Artis came to Creek’s side.
“C’mon man,” Artis repeated, clutching Creek’s wrist.
Sideline Cancer, Creek and Abell’s team, had advanced through the first four rounds as the No. 22 seed in the 24-team tournament before coming up short 78-73 Tuesday night.
As Creek rested on the court after Diener’s shot cut through the net, it represented the unfulfilled hopes that followed Creek throughout his career. Disappointment is something he knew all too well from his collegiate years.
Creek arrived at IU in 2009 touted as a top-100 recruit from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. In his first year, Creek earned a starting spot for the Hoosiers and was the highest-scoring freshman in the country through the first nine games of the season. He netted 31 points in a loss to the University of Kentucky.
In the 12th game of the season, Creek suffered a fractured left knee. The injury required surgery and knocked him out for the rest of the year.
Creek’s sophomore year was cut short, too. In January 2011 he underwent another surgery, this time to tend to a stress fracture in his knee. His season was finished after 18 games.
The following fall, after returning from his prior injuries, Creek ruptured his Achilles. He was forced to redshirt the entire season, not stepping on the court once.
Finally, in his redshirt junior year, Creek fought back to get into action and appeared in 24 games. But Creek wasn’t the budding young talent anymore. He averaged just 1.8 points and less than one rebound per game.
After that season, Creek transferred to George Washington University for his final year of eligibility. He then toured Europe, playing in an array of professional leagues in the Netherlands, Denmark, Ukraine and Israel. In 2016, Creek was signed by the Golden State Warriors’ G-League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors. He was released five days later.
In 2018, Creek found himself competing in TBT for the first time. The tournament, which was founded in 2014, serves as a last-ditch proving ground for former collegiate and overseas players of all ages. It’s fitting that after an injury-stricken career full of unrealized potential, Creek made a run with the No. 22 seeded team in this year’s draw.
Within a tournament of the underdogs, Creek was still overlooked.
Creek along with Abell, who played for the Hoosiers from 2011-13, helped boost Sideline Cancer through the first four rounds of the tournament.
Abell took the lead first, scoring 17 in the opening round, while Creek dropped in 13 on their way to a two-point win. Then, the pair replicated their scoring numbers in the second round, taking a 10- point victory.
“I’m always going to be shooting it all the time,” Creek said.
Creek shined in the next two contests, scoring 22 points and hitting three 3-pointers in a quarterfinals win. In the semifinals, Creek knocked down a game-clinching trey against four-time TBT champions Overseas Elite.
“Everybody on this team believes,” Creek said. “Everyone picked against us against Team Hines and against (Challenge) ALS.”
Creek kept believing in the championship game. With less than two seconds before halftime, Creek showed his veteran savvy and craftiness. Creek was inbounding the ball under the Golden Eagles’ basket when he tapped the ball off the defender's back, caught it and swiftlymade a layup before the buzzer went off.
The teams went back and forth throughout the second half, neither able to pull away before the final baskets.
Creek finished the night with 20 points, logging the second most minutes on Sideline Cancer. Abell contributed 14 of his own. Still, Sideline Cancer came up short.
While bent over on the floor after the game, Creek spoke with a quivering voice.
“It’s been a long game,” he said.
For Creek, after pushing through a foray of obstacles, a “long game” also embodies his career as a whole. But even in a loss Tuesday night, Creek proved he belongs.