OMAHA, Neb. — In the end, the challenge of facing a perennial mid-major power was too great.
Though, there were fleeting moments of a competitive affair.
The Creighton Bluejays rode a hot-shooting effort and a deeper bench to run past the University of South Dakota 89-78 in Tuesday night's first round game in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT), played at the Omaha Civic Auditorium.
In what was once a close game for most of the first half, the Missouri Valley Conference member Bluejays — playing in their 13th straight postseason — eventually wore down the Coyotes (22-10).
Thus ended the second season at the Division I level for USD against a team that has made a living of late playing in big-time contests.
"I thought it was a really good college basketball game," USD head coach Dave Boots said. "It was an important stage for us to play a program like Creighton. They're hard to defend and did pretty well offensively."
Though each team drained 12 three-pointers, the majority of Creighton's scoring — 56 out of 89 points — came from its bench. Conversely, the Coyotes got 18 points from its reserves.
Yet, even despite an uncharacteristic strong start from the Bluejays, USD hung tough in the opening minutes.
A layup from Mitchell Bouie tied the game at 15 seven minutes in, and freshman Jake Thomas later drained a 30-foot three-pointer at the 10:27 mark to bring USD within 21-19.
But that's when Creighton started to pull away.
"We've really struggled over the last 10-12 years getting off to decent starts in tournament games, but we shot the ball better, which gave us energy," Creighton coach Dana Altman said. "In the middle of the first half, I thought our depth was a factor."
The Bluejays mounted a 12-3 run after the Thomas three to lead 33-24 at the 6:24 mark, and within two minutes, the cushion was 40-26.
Though USD trimmed the margin to 44-36 with 1:24 before halftime, the hosts closed the frame on a 6-0 run to lead 50-36 at intermission.
At that point, the taller Creighton players were giving the Coyotes fits on offense.
"Coming into the game, we expected a physical battle," said USD senior Tyler Cain, who recorded 12 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks. "It's what we expected. They play good post defense and they're really aggressive with you."
And from there, the Bluejays continued the pressure — never leading by fewer than 10 points the rest of the way.
After Cain hit a free throw with 10:21 left, the Coyotes trailed 69-57. But the Bluejays responded with 10 straight points — on three three-pointers. Within two minutes, the lead was 79-57.
In the game's final 7:50, USD drained five three-pointers and didn't simply allow the Bluejays to waltz away with a blowout.
"Our kids battled all the way through," Boots said. "I'm proud of the effort they had. Certainly, I think it'll be another learning phase we're going through."
In what was the final game for three USD seniors — Cain, Roman Gentry and Steve Smith — the Coyotes played in front of an announced crowd of 4,348. The number was later determined to be the second-largest, first-round crowd in the CIT's short two-year history.
"The atmosphere was great; our fans came out and supported us," said Creighton's Cavel Witter, who scored 15 points. "The shots were falling for us. Defensively, we had some lapses, but overall, we did a good job."
It was a similar sentiment shared by Boots, who pointed to the game against Creighton as a major stepping stone for his young D-I program.
"Creighton has always known to be a great shooting program," Boots said. "We were there on some (shots), but we didn't get to some. For us, this was a good showing at this point in time."
Four players scored in double figures for USD, which shot 42.4 percent (28-of-66) from the field. Thomas — who Altman called one of the best shooters his team has faced all season — led with 18 points, while Louie Krogman had 14, Gentry had 13, and Cain and Kendall Cutler each added 12 points.
While one of his teammates discussed Creighton's shooting performance, CU's Wayne Runnels chimed in by saying, "They shot really well too."
The Bluejays had 11 players score in the game, led by Witter and Runnels' 15 points. Ethan Wragge added 14 points and Darryl Ashford had 13.
Creighton will host a quarterfinal game in the CIT next Monday night against an opponent to be determined.
SOUTH DAKOTA (22-10)
Roman Gentry 5-12 0-0 13; Tyler Cain 3-10 6-11 12; Steve Smith 1-8 2-2 5; Kendall Cutler 6-10 0-0 12; Jake Thomas 6-10 2-2 18; Mitchell Bouie 1-3 0-0 2; Louie Krogman 5-12 0-0 14; Jordan Boots 0-0 0-0 0; Conrad Krutwig 1-1 0-0 2. TOTALS 28-66 10-15 78.
Justin Carter 1-10 2-2 4; Ethan Wragge 4-6 2-2 14; Kenny Lawson Jr. 0-5 2-2 2; Josh Jones 3-7 0-0 6; Antoine Young 3-7 0-0 7; Cavel Witter 4-5 3-4 15; Andrew Bock 0-0 2-2 2; Kaleb Korver 3-4 0-0 9; Matt Dorwart 0-0 0-0 0; Wayne Runnels 5-9 5-5 15; Darryl Ashford 6-9 1-2 13; Casey Harriman 1-2 0-0 2. TOTALS 30-64 17-19 89.
At The Half: CU 50-36. Three-Pointers: CU 12-23 (Witter 4-5, Wragge 4-6, Korver 3-4, Young 1-2, Carter 0-1, Runnels 0-1, Jones 0-2, Ashford 0-2), USD 12-25 (Thomas 4-6, Krogman 4-9, Gentry 3-6, Smith 1-4). Total Rebounds: CU 41 (Carter 10), USD 33 (Cain 9). Assists: CU 20 (Young 5), USD 15 (Cutler 6). Personal Fouls: USD 14, CU 11. Fouled Out: None. Attendance: 4,348.