NORMAL, Ill. – A monster dunk by forward Jackie Carmichael with less than a minute left in Illinois State's game against No. 16 Creighton on Wednesday night pulled the Redbirds within three points.
Redbird Arena was so loud the players could barely hear each other on the court.
"We can do this," Illinois State guard Tyler Brown yelled at his teammates. "We can do it."
They almost did. But Creighton held on for a 79-72 win.
Bluejays forward Ethan Wragge worked all week on his outside shooting and it showed when the junior scored a career-high 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting from 3-point range Wednesday night.
The 6-foot-7 Wragge, who normally comes off the bench, made his first four attempts from behind the 3-point line. After that, his teammates were kicking the ball out to him nearly every offensive series, looking for his hot hand.
"I worked pretty hard all week on my outside shooting," Wragge said. "They were dropping pretty good in practice, too. As soon as the first one went in tonight, I just felt it. They really started falling after that."
Carmichael recorded his 161st career blocked shot, passing Greg Dilligard for the most in school history. Carmichael scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Grant Gibbs added 16 points for Creighton (13-1, 2-0 Missouri Valley Conference), while the team's leading scoring Doug McDermott (third in the nation at 23.5 points per game) was held to 15 points and nine rebounds.
"It was a fabulous win," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "There are not many teams in our league that could've come in here tonight and played a tough opponent like (ISU) and get away with a win. We'll take it."
Tyler Brown and Bryant Allen each scored 15 points to lead the Redbirds (9-5, 0-2).
Creighton led by as many as 12 points in the first half. Illinois State went on a 9-0 run over the last 2 minutes of the half that culminated with a 3-pointer by Nick Zeisloft with 2 seconds left to pull the Redbirds within 42-39.
It took Creighton until the second half to figure out the Redbirds' zone defense.
"Finally, we were able to get into the teeth of their zone. It was something we didn't recognize, and we had to make some adjustments. We picked it up eventually," Greg McDermott said.
It was a crushing loss for the young Redbirds, who felt they were in the game until the final seconds.
"Disappointed," first-year Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "We really wanted this win tonight. And we came close. Creighton is a very good team, but we wanted this one."
The teams combined for 26 3-pointers in the game, 17 coming in the first half. As both defenses tightened, Illinois State staged another comeback late in the game, pulling ahead 63-61 on a 3-pointer by Allen with 9:15 left. Creighton regained the lead at 67-65 with 7:03 left and never relinquished it.
Creighton's seven-point margin of victory was its lowest of the season.
Illinois State is 0-8 against nationally ranked opponents in the history of Redbird Arena.