DAYTON, Ohio -- Up by double digits in the opening half, Creighton was looking at its biggest road upset since the days when Larry Bird was hitting jumpers at Indiana State.
Johnson had a double-double on Saturday, and Wright led a second-half surge that swept Dayton (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) to a 90-80 victory in an opening matchup of teams that won 27 games apiece last season.
The Flyers were ranked in the preseason poll for the first time since 1967 and came out tentative in the opening half, when Creighton pulled ahead by 10 and silenced the capacity crowd at University of Dayton Arena. Wright got the Flyers rolling by asserting himself after halftime.
"Coming into the second half, we had to calm down," said Wright, who scored 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting. "With it being the first game and everything, we played with too much adrenalin and not enough focus in the first half."
The Flyers pulled away in the closing minutes for their 21st straight win on their home floor, tying the school record. Johnson, a sophomore who started last season, finished with 18 points and had a career-high 15 rebounds.
Creighton hasn't beaten a ranked team on the road since it upset Bird's Indiana State team on Jan. 28, 1978. The Bluejays have dropped 25 straight against ranked teams on the road, falling to 2-63 in those games.
This one was there for the taking until the final four minutes, when Dayton closed it out with a 17-9 run. It marked the first time since Feb. 19, 2000 -- a span of 67 games -- that the Bluejays scored 80 points and lost.
"That's a tough one we let slip out of our hands," said forward Wayne Runnels, who scored 16 points. "A tough one."
P'Allen Stinnett led five Bluejays in double figures with 18 points.
Dayton returns four starters and 10 of the top 11 scorers from a team that went 27-8 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Flyers are picked to win the Atlantic 10.
They were taken to the limit by a team with a depleted front line.
Creighton returns three starters from a team that also went 27-8 last season and reached the second round of the NIT. For the opener, the Bluejays were without senior forward Justin Carter, who slightly tore a knee ligament during an exhibition game and will miss several weeks.
Worse, forward Casey Harriman got the flu and didn't make the trip, leaving Creighton without two of its best front-line players. Runnels, a junior college transfer, steadied the Bluejays up front.
With the lineup depleted, the Bluejays played zone most of the game.
"We just felt with our front-line depth we wanted to change things up a little bit," coach Dana Altman said. "We went with a lot more zone than we anticipated."
The Flyers held impromptu dunk competition among themselves during their pregame shoot-around -- bouncing balls off the floor and backboard before slamming them into the hoop. On other side of the floor, Creighton was running through traditional pass-and-shoot drills.
In the first half, some old-fashioned zone defense helped Creighton pull out to a 10-point lead. The Bluejays applied half-court pressure and took Dayton out of its flow. Stinnett, the top returning scorer, hit a pair of 3s and made a four-point play as Creighton opened a 35-25 lead.
Runnels scored 12 points as Creighton held on for a 46-41 halftime lead. The Bluejays shot 56 percent against Dayton's lethargic defense.
"We were on our heels the whole first half," coach Brian Gregory said.
Wright took over the game and pulled the Flyers out of their doldrums at the start of the second half. He hit a 3, a jumper and a pair of free throws, blocked a shot and drew three fouls in the opening 2 minutes, 24 seconds, helping Dayton surge ahead 53-50.
"I just wanted to do what I do best, and that's run the floor and play with energy, with fearless energy," Wright said.
It stayed close the rest of the way, with one tie and three lead changes. Johnson's unguarded 3-pointer from the left corner made it 82-75 with 2:17 left, Dayton's biggest lead to that point. Wright's three-point play helped put it away.