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Creighton shoots down Evansville to win MVC, NCAA bid
Posted: Tuesday March 02, 1999 12:56 AM
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Rodney Buford came up with the big shots in Creighton's biggest game.
Buford scored nine of his 21 points in a crucial 1:44 second-half sequence as the Bluejays beat top seed Evansville 70-61 for the championship of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Monday night. He also picked up eight of his game-high 13 rebounds in the second half, responding to a halftime tongue-lashing from teammate Ben Walker.
"He said 'You're not playing like you should, you're not rebounding, you've got to want to get it, and you've got to take over,'" Buford said. "That's what I knew I had to do, because I wanted to be the difference-maker."
Walker, a sophomore who added 18 points and 11 rebounds, said it was difficult to talk tough with Buford, a three-time all-conference pick.
"I said it with a deep tone and a mean voice," Walker said. "The best part was he listened. He didn't get mad and he didn't run off. He was like 'You're right, I do have to do this.'"
Walker added 18 points and 11 rebounds for Creighton (21-8), the No. 2 seed. The Bluejays, who have won six in a row, get the Valley's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will make their first appearance since 1991.
"It's been four years of working for this," Buford said. "We're finally going."
Marcus Wilson had 16 points and Craig Snow 13 for Evansville (23-9), which won the conference race by two games and split with Creighton in the regular season with each team winning on the road. Wilson, the Valley's player of the year, totaled 59 points in the two regular-season games against Creighton.
"Tonight, they were everywhere I went," Wilson said. "Their zone really keyed in on me."
After going 15-for-24 in Evansville's first two tourney games, Wilson was 5-for-14 in the finale. He wasn't the only one missing for the Purple Aces, who shot 37.7 percent.
Snow had 28 points in the first round on Saturday but totaled 25 points the last two games while battling foul trouble.
"That's my defense," Snow said. "I've got to improve on it, hopefully before the postseason starts."
Evansville, which has won nine of 12 and is 54th in the RPI ratings, expects to get an at-large berth in the NCAAs. Creighton is No. 55 in the RPI.
"I think we should be in," Wilson said. "We won the league by two games, but now we have to sit around for a week and wait and see."
The game was tied 48-48 when Buford, the third-leading active scorer in the country with 2,090 points, took over. His running jump hook with 9:40 remaining gave Creighton the lead for good. He hit a 3-pointer at the 8:45 mark, scored inside at 8:09 and then had a steal and dunk with 7:56 left for a 57-51 lead.
Buford's play began an 18-4 run for Creighton, which had trailed by three at halftime. The Bluejays were 6-for-6 at the line during the run which produced a 66-52 lead with 2:54 to go.
"We wanted to be aggressive in the second half and take it right at them," Buford said. "That's what we were able to do."
Buford had a similar sequence in the semifinals against Southwest Missouri on Sunday, getting seven of his 16 points in 1:29 to key an 11-1 run in a 78-70 come-from-behind victory.
Creighton has won five Valley titles, more than any other team. Illinois State and Southern Illinois each have won four times.
Buford was named tournament MVP and was joined on the all-tournament team by Walker, Wilson and Snow of Evansville and Rob Dye of Bradley.
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