NORMAL -- Dan Muller never lost to Creighton during his playing days at ISU, but he was unable to keep that trend going as a coach Wednesday night as the Redbirds fell to No. 16 Creighton, 79-72, in front of a lively crowd at Redbird Arena.
"Disappointed in the result," said Muller, who is in his first year as ISU's head coach. "Our guys played very hard. They wanted to win. They competed at a high level. We had some guys who didn't play great, but they played hard and I'm happy with their effort.
"Creighton is a very good team. We just didn't make enough plays to beat a very good team."
Reigning Valley Player of the Year Doug McDermott was battling strep throat struggled to get going for Creighton, scoring just four points in the first half as Glenbard East product Johnny Hill and Chicago native Zeke Upshaw played solid defense on one of the top scorers in the nation.
"Fabulous win for us," Creighton head coach Greg McDermott, Doug's father, said. "I don't think many teams are going to come in here and win."
Ethan Wragge (18 points on 6-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc) and Grant Gibbs (14 points) picked up the slack for McDermott in the opening period as Creighton built a 12-point lead.
"They really hurt us in the first half with Gibbs making some shots he hasn't made," Muller said. "Wragge, we knew he could shoot. We talked about it, we just had some guys go a little brain-dead to give him some shot attempts, which was disappointing.
"But our zone was good. They shot 50 percent in the second half, but they made some baskets late in the shot clock to get there. The zone was very effective in the second half. They're just hard to guard. You gotta pick your poison.
ISU forward Jackie Carmichael, who claimed the top spot in ISU history with his 161st career block Wednesday night, was suspiciously quiet in the early going, but came up huge with 40 seconds to go in the half, grabbing an offensive rebound and going strong to the rim for an and-one.
After Carmichael missed his free throw, Nick Zeisloft came up with the loose ball and hit a last-second three, bringing ISU into halftime down just three, 42-39.
"I felt like Nick Z's shot was a big momentum-changer," Carmichael said. "For him to knock down that three, that was huge."
Creighton's third-year head coach was upset with the Bluejays' defense to close the half, when his team could have dealt a knockout blow to the Redbirds.
"Defensively, I thought we were decent until the last four minutes of the first half," McDermott said. "Some offensive rebound opportunities led to some baskets and got them back in the game when we had them down 12."
Muller and the Redbirds instituted the zone defense in the second half and slowed Creighton's offensive attack. After halftime, Wragge and Gibbs combined for just five points, but McDermott found his groove a bit, pouring in 11 points to finish with 15 on the evening.
"The zone slowed our tempo and that's not how we wanted to play," the elder McDermott said.
Coming out of the first timeout in the second half, Upshaw hit back-to-back threes to bring ISU even with Creighton. A few minutes later, a pair of treys from Bryant Allen gave the Redbirds their first lead since two minutes into the game.
But ISU failed to capitalize on the one-point lead, missing a pair of layups. Creighton responded with a three-pointer and never relinquished the lead down the stretch.
"It was critical," Muller said of the Redbirds' inability to cash in on their inspired run midway through the second half. "We had some opportunities at the basket to get a two-possession lead a couple times and we just didn't convert.
"You never know what's going to happen. Clearly, Creighton is not going to stop playing hard, but if you can make a basket there, get one more stop, then your team has a little run going and your team builds offense. But it was back-and-forth there toward the end and we could never stretch it...Clearly, not getting a hold of the game hurt us down the stretch."
Creighton isn't used to playing close games, having picked up all 12 of their wins by at least 10 points heading into the evening.
But the Redbirds -- who lost by three on the road to then-No. 5 Louisville on Dec. 1 -- are used to one-possession games and their experience showed late in a tight game as they played like a team with nothing to lose.
The Redbirds made things interesting as a dunk from Jackie Carmichael brought ISU within three at 73-70 before Creighton turned the ball over on a full-court press with under a minute remaining.
But the Bluejays' talent still won out in the end as McDermott and Co. put things away in the closing minutes, knocking down their free throws as ISU went cold from the floor.
"I don't panic with this group," Greg McDermott said. "We've got a lot of experience and guys believe in each other."
Senior Tyler Brown paced ISU with 15 points, including a quick lay-up in the waning seconds, but couldn't get the Redbirds over the hump.
"I felt like we could have come out with a W," Brown said. "It was just one stop and a score and you're at home. The crowd gets behind you and it just does something to you.
"But we didn't get a stop. We didn't get a bucket that we needed down the stretch to win."