Just three days after suffering their first defeat of the season against the Boise State University Broncos, the No. 13 Creighton men’s basketball team returned to the CenturyLink Center court to host Atlantic-10 preseason favorite St. Joseph’s University. The Jays were looking to bounce back and return to the form that nearly had them ranked inside the top 10.
“We talked this week about, not so much of what we do, offensively and defensively, but how we do it. We didn’t have to change anything, we just had to get back to who we are,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said.
The Jays did just that, dominating St. Joe’s on both ends en route to an 80-51 victory over the Hawks on Saturday. After giving up 10 3-pointers and 63.6 shooting to the Broncos, the Jays locked down the hawks defensively and held them to 37.7 shooting for the game.
“To start the game tonight I thought these guys did a terrific job of setting the tone defensively and that defense carried us,” McDermott said. “It’s amazing when you play defense like that it seems like your offense is usually a little bit better.”
Creighton held the Hawks to 29.6 percent from the field in the first half and led St. Joe’s in every single statistical category.
Junior forward Doug McDermott scored 18 of his game-high 26 points in the first. McDermott had struggled with his 3-ball early in the season, but connected on four of his six attempts in the first half and shot 5-for-7 from deep overall in the game.
Senior center Gregory Echenique joined McDermott in double figures in the first half with 11 points on 5-6 shooting. Echenique finished with 16 points (second to McDermott’s 23) and tied with two teammates for the rebounding lead with six. Echenique was a force inside, and once the 6-9, 260-pounder sealed his man under the basket there was nothing the Hawks could do.
McDermott said the Jays were looking to feed his fellow big man early, and that strategy paid off.
We really wanted to get Gregory going tonight and get his confidence back,” McDermott said. “It’s great to see him play like he did tonight … We just have to continue to get that kind of play from him.”
Echenique impressed not only his teammates, but the coaching staff as well.
“He was running the floor, he was sealing, he was going after rebounds, and when you have the luxury of being able to play Ronald Roberts one-on-one inside with Gregory, not a lot of teams can do that … Gregory was the best big man on the floor without question today,” Greg McDermott said.
The Bluejays racked up 21 assists on 30 made field goals in the game, and a big reason for the tremendous ball movement was the play of senior guard Grant Gibbs. Gibbs split time between the wing and point guard spots and finished with nine assists an zero turnovers to go with his four points an four rebounds.
“He’s unbelievable,” Greg McDermott said. “I hope our fans are enjoying what they see, because you may never see it again. I’ve never coached a wing player that has that kind of savvy. It’s one thing to get the assists, but when you’re making those decisions you would think you would make some mistakes, and he doesn’t make many mistakes. The other night when we were trying to get back into the game against Boise, we needed him to score and he scored. Today we needed him to distribute and he distributed.”
The Jays cooled down a bit in the second half, but still outscored the Hawks by two and cruised to the 29-point victory. With Creighton holding a 29-point lead late, McDermott responded to the “We want Joe” chants from the students subbed in the walk-ons with about a minute left. First year senior guard Joe Kelling took advantage of the playing time and scored his first points as a college athlete on a tough turn-around jumper with 29 seconds to go, inspiring one of the biggest crowd ovations of the game.
As well as the Jays played defensively, it was Creighton’s defense that won the game. The Hawks had six players averaging double figures in scoring on the season coming into the game, but only one player cracked that number against Creighton.
Guard Carl Jones, who lit up Creighton for 29 points last year and was the team’s leading scorer coming into the game at 17.7 points per game, was held to just nine points on 3-10 shooting. Creighton point guard Austin Chatman drew the match-up defensively, and the sophomore outplayed Jones on both ends.
“Six assists, one turnover and chasing Carl Jones around the whole game is a tall task. I thought Austin handled it well … He’s our best perimeter defender, and he showed it tonight.”
Creighton travels to Lincoln on Thursday to take on the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Jays haven’t won in Lincoln since 2004, and the Jays are not going to overlook their in-state foes.
“We’ve got a big week ahead of us, obviously, playing Nebraska on the road, rivalry game and anything can happen there, so we have to continue this intensity in practice,” Doug McDermott said.
Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m. at the Bob Devaney Center.