MEN'S BASKETBALL: Beavers ready for Creighton experience
OMAHA, Neb.—Game day is going to look quite a bit different for the Bemidji State men's basketball team Tuesday night.
After playing in front of 16,282 fans in 25 games so far this season, the Beavers are set for a road exhibition against Creighton—which averages 16,644 fans per home game.
"Playing in front of 16,000 fans is a unique experience that not many basketball players get a chance to experience," BSU head coach Mike Boschee said. "It feels like a great experience in the environment that we're playing in, a chance for us to continue to work on our game and improve, see how good a Big East school is."
Bemidji State (11-14, 8-12 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) is up against one of the best opponents in program history in the Bluejays (18-7, 8-5 Big East). A virtual lock for next month's NCAA Tournament, Creighton sits just outside this week's AP Top 25 Division I poll.
"It'll kind of be cool to see how we match up with a team like that," senior point guard Christian Pekarek said. "I think it'll help us, too, for the end of our year. (It will) help us get ready for Mary and Minot this weekend, then going on to our conference tournament, too."
The matchup—which was penciled in as a late add to BSU's schedule in September—has been decades in the making.
Bluejays head coach Greg McDermott had his first coaching gig as an assistant with North Dakota from 1989-94, and during his first two seasons UND's roster featured Boschee—an all-conference, all-region captain. McDermott and Boschee helped UND to a third-place finish in the 1990 Division II National Tournament, and now they're set for tonight's reunion, their first as opposing head coaches.
"He was a fun guy to play for," Boschee said. "He was hard on you. He made you work, he challenged you in different ways. But I think you have to appreciate those coaches who challenge you and make you work."
And Tuesday night, his Creighton squad will make the Beavers work, too.
"It's cool to get to go play a Big East team," Pekarek said. "They're obviously really good. They almost beat (No. 5) Xavier—probably should have beat them. It'll be a good experience for us."
The Bluejays are coming off a 72-71, last-second loss to the Musketeers from Saturday, Feb. 10, when Creighton was whistled for a touchy foul with 0.3 seconds left while clinging to a one-point lead. Quentin Goodin sunk two free throws for Xavier, keeping Creighton from an upset that likely would have meant their return to the national rankings.
"It's a chance for them to regroup after a tough loss to Xavier on a controversial call," Boschee said. "It gives them a chance to pause and take a step back, and just get back on the court again to get that bad taste out of their mouths.
"Getting the chance to go against a Big East opponent is certainly going to allow us to try to get better at a few things, and exploit some of our weaknesses and maybe give us a chance to continue to learn in a game setting. That's always valuable. But the other part of it is experience for our guys to, again, the same thing: play against a Big East team."
The game begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday from the CenturyLink Center Omaha in Omaha, Neb., and will be televised on FS2.
"Going to play the (Minnesota) Gophers last year was awesome. I think this is another cool opportunity for us to play in front of however many fans they're going to have," Pekarek said. "We're just hoping to get out there and enjoy the atmosphere and the experience that we're going to have. They're a really good team, so it's hard to say what it's going to be like. But I'm just going to try to take it all in."
And once they tip off with Goliath, Boschee will simply be looking for the same things he's asked from his players all season.
"We want them to compete. We want them to be engaged, doing things the right away and doing a lot of good things out there," Boschee said. "I want to play a lot of people (Tuesday) night. The guys that maybe haven't played as much as of late are certainly going to get a chance to get out there and compete, try to improve and see where they're at. Hopefully it'll be a game that's a positive experience for us moving forward into the final weekend of the year and into the playoffs."