Former Indiana and George Washington guard Maurice Creek is no stranger to making shots. As a freshman in 2009, Creek scored 31 points in a loss against Kentucky as the Hoosiers went toe-to-toe against the No. 4 Wildcats before falling behind in the second half at Assembly Hall.
But after a college career derailed by injuries and years playing in anonymity overseas, the 6-foot-5 Creek has returned to the spotlight the past two weeks, helping lead Sideline Cancer to the finals of the ESPN-televised The Basketball Tournament (TBT) in Columbus, Ohio.
On Sunday night, Creek knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime to give Sideline Cancer a 67-65 win over four-time tournament winner Overseas Elite, a squad that this year included former NBA All-Star guard Joe Johnson.
“It felt good right when I shot it,” Creek said, “For it to go in, it felt even better.”
The shot lifted Sideline Cancer to Tuesday night’s TBT Finals (7 p.m, ESPN) against the Golden Eagles, a team composed of Marquette alumni. At stake is a winner-take-all, $1 million team prize, with each player share at about $90,000.
But Creek said Tuesday night’s matchup is more than about money.
“We were the underdog of this tournament. Everybody knew that,” Creek said. “But we’re in the championship game against a really good Marquette team, a team that knocked us out last year. So it’s all about pride. I think this game is a lot more personal than a lot of people realize for us just because of what happened last year.”
Creek’s big shot came after scoring a team-high 22 points Saturday against Boeheim’s Army, a group of mostly former Syracuse players, knocking down three 3-pointers over the zone defense he faced. He’s averaged 14.5 points over the four games.
With the NBA being on hiatus until July 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 29-year-old Creek has managed to display his scoring ability to an even larger television audience starved for live basketball competition.
“Being able to score in any way shape or form, that’s something I’ve always been noticed for doing,” Creek said. “Now that it’s being displayed on national television with 197 countries watching, so it’s millions and millions of people watching now. They get the picture of what’s going on.”
Another former IU and Xavier guard, Remy Abell, has averaged 15 points over the four games for Sideline Cancer. Together, the two former Hoosiers have embraced the underdog role in the tournament and the support from IU’s fanbase on social media.
“They say once you are a Hoosier, you are always a Hoosier,” Creek said. “You know at some point in time I will be getting down there, probably at the end of the summertime, next summer, but I won’t tell you all when until that time comes because I know if I say something now Twitter is going to blow up.
“But I definitely will get down there. I’ll definitely want to do something for Indiana as far as either wanting to do a camp or an autograph session or anything I can do to get back where I started off.”
An Oxion Hill, Maryland, native, Creek was part of Tom Crean’s second recruiting class that also included Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and Christian Watford. After averaging 16.4 points as a freshman in 16 games in the 2009-10 season, Creek suffered a season-ending injury. Another season-ending injury, a knee stress fracture, limited Creek to 18 games as a sophomore. Creek was sidelined the entire 2011-12 season after suffering a torn Achilles days before the team’s first official practice.
Creek said the injuries were hard to accept at first. He leaned on his family for support.
“Adversity happens in life, and if you are not ready to deal with it, then you will be hampered in life,” Creek said. “So what I was always taught was when things get tough, have a tough mind.”
Creek transferred closer to home for George Washington his final year, hit a dramatic game-winning shot to help GW upset Maryland and made it through the year healthy, averaging 14.1 points while shooting 40% from 3-point range. That led to a career playing overseas in Denmark, Israel and Ukraine. Other than the cold winters in Ukraine, Creek has enjoyed his professional career.
“I get better every year as time goes on,” Creek said. “They say when you get older, you get more seasoned. So for me to be getting older, (I'm) probably not as fast as I used to be back in the day, but I’m more skilled. I’m more poised. I’m more aware of everything, so I’m actually happy that I’m still able to play the game and be able to play with the guys I’m playing with now.”
Creek plans to save most of his winning share if Sideline Cancer wins the tournament Tuesday night. He doesn’t have an overseas job lined up for next season yet but is hoping the exposure gained through the tournament could help him land a job either in Europe, Asia or even closer to home.
“A lot of people are watching these games, a lot of people as far as GMs from NBA teams or anyone like that who is watching,” Creek said. “So I could sneak up and get a call from one GM, honestly. It’s just about being patient, and you know, just staying the course with everything that I’m doing right now.”