Oregon's Johnathan Loyd (10) tries to get around Creighton's Kenny Lawson Jr. in the first half. - AP

Unhappy Return

OMAHA, Neb. — The home fans gave their old coach a warm welcome, and then Creighton did its best to run Dana Altman's Oregon Ducks out of the building.

The Bluejays built big leads early in the first and second halves, but they couldn't put away the Ducks until the final minute in an 84-76 victory Monday night in Game 1 of the College Basketball Invitational championship series.

"The start of the game was phenomenal," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "I'm not sure I've experienced anything like that. It was electric in the arena. We came out clicking, and Oregon wasn't far behind us offensively."

The Bluejays made nine of their first 10 shots and had a double-digit lead 7 minutes into the game. The advantage was 17 points after Doug McDermott scored nine of his game-high 21 points during a 12-0 run the first 4 minutes of the second half. But Oregon wouldn't go away, twice pulling within four points late in the game.

Game 2 is Wednesday in Eugene, and a third game, if necessary, would be played there Friday.

The Altman vs. Creighton subplot is adding spice to the CBI finals.

He's Creighton's all-time winningest coach, with 327 victories and seven NCAA tournament appearances in 16 years. He left the 6,000-student Jesuit school last April for a $1.7 million-a-year offer from Oregon. The move came as a big surprise to his players and Creighton fans.

In his first trip back to the Qwest Center — one he said he dreaded — he got a warm reception from the CBI single-game record crowd of 12,381. Fans on the floor rose and clapped as Altman walked out of the tunnel to the court. He and his staff shook hands with the Bluejays' staff, and Altman got a quick hug from Greg McDermott.

Altman again received long and loud ovation when his name was announced during pregame introductions.

"Oh, I appreciated it," Altman said. "The people have always been good to us — 16 years — really good to our family. It was nice."

Altman said he didn't know what to expect when he walked into the arena.

"I know a lot of people were disappointed in my decision to leave," he said. "There were probably more people happy to see me go. It was awkward."

McDermott said he didn't spend much time talking to his players about their former coach.

"I think it was emotional for some of them, obviously, with coach Altman coming back," he said. "I really appreciated the way the fans treated coach Altman. That's exactly what he deserved. Doug (McDermott) said it best, that we might not be playing in this building if it's not for coach Altman."

The Ducks struggled against bigger Creighton. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound Gregory Echenique had 15 points and blocked four shots, and Josh Jones and Jahenns Manigat had 11 points apiece for the Bluejays (23-14).

Joevan Catron led Oregon (19-18) with 15 points and nine rebounds. Garrett Sim and Jay-R Strowbridge had 14 points apiece and Johnathan Loyd and E.J. Singler 10 each for the Ducks. Singler, from Medford, also had 10 rebounds, giving him his third double-double of the season.

"I just didn't think we were very sharp," Altman said. "That probably has a lot more to do with them than it had to do with us. We were just a half-step slower tonight."

Strowbridge finished a 16-5 spurt with a layup off a steal, pulling Oregon within 63-57. The Ducks missed four of their next five shots and committed a turnover, and the Bluejays were back in front 70-59 after Kenny Lawson put back his own miss with a dunk.

The Bluejays were up 79-72 before Strowbridge's 3-pointer cut it to four points with 1:30 left

Josh Jones's 3-pointer made it 82-75 with 1:21 left. Singler had a chance to get Oregon within four points, but McDermott came up from behind to block his layup try with 40 seconds left, all but ending the Ducks' comeback hopes.

"I might have gotten away with a foul there," said McDermott, who has just four blocked shots in 37 games. "I had to do something to stop that play."

Altman said the Ducks have to find a way to cope with Creighton's size advantage.

"We had trouble with Gregory all night," he said. "I don't know how we're going to change things up. They're not going to get any smaller between now and Wednesday. We'll have to try to do some different things."

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