The snow fell outside the CenturyLink Center walls while 3-pointers fell inside as the Jays knocked off the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane 71-54. The Jays got off to a slow start, but still pulled away in the final 10 minutes of the first half to secure their 11th win of the year.
The Jays came out flat to start the game and couldn’t get anything going offensively. Little more than five minutes into the game, the score was tied at 4-4 and the Jays had six turnovers to just two made field goals. But senior center Gregory Echenique stepped up and put the team on his back early in the first half.
“We needed him,” head coach Greg McDermott said. “We had a hard time getting Doug shots, Austin turned it over a few times, we weren’t making perimeter shots to start, so we had to get baskets somewhere. I thought Gregory was active on the backboards, defensively and the ball screens he was very good, and that was a big reason they had eight points I think 15, 14 minutes into the game.”
Echenique scored Creighton’s first two baskets and had 14 of the Jays’ first 18 points. As his coach said, he was also a big factor on the defensive end, helping to hold Tulsa to just eight points 15 minutes into the game.
The Jays used a 24-12 run to take a 38-20 lead into halftime. Echenique was the star of the first half with 12 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals. The Golden Hurricane couldn’t do anything to stop him, and the Jays recognized that and went to him early and often.
“Gregory’s played very consistent basketball for us this year, when you look back at what he’s done and the consistency with how he’s done it,” McDermott said. “I’m really proud of him, he takes good shots, he makes good decisions, he’s active on the glass, he’s a big reason we’re 11-1.”
The Jays coasted through the second half to a 17-point win. Junior forward Doug McDermott, the nation’s third-leading scorer, got going in the second half after scoring only four points in the first. McDermott scored 12 points and made every shot he took but one free throw. He finished the game with 16 points and five rebounds, failing to eclipse the 20-point barrier for the first time since Nov. 20 against Longwood University.
Sophomore guard Avery Dingman led the 14 points in the second half. Dingman finished with a career-high 21 points on 8-9 shooting, including 3-5 from beyond the arc. It was Dingman’s shooting and energy along with Echenique’s strong play that got the Jays going in the first half.
“I thought he provided energy the first half when we were lacking some, which was good to see,” Greg McDermott said. “It’s amazing when you play that way that your shots tend to fall.”
The Jays needed someone to step up off the bench with senior Josh Jones out of commission, and McDermott said Dingman did a good job of filling that void.
Dingman echoed some of McDermott’s thoughts.
“Obviously I was shooting it well, but I tried to come in the game and kind of give us a little energy,” Dingman said. “It seemed like we were a little flat to start the game. On defense it seemed like we were a step slow, we were turning it over a lot, so I just tried to come in and provide some energy. I got a couple quick steals and defense kind of transitioned to offense.”
The win closed out the nonconference schedule for the Jays. The MVC regular season begins for the Bluejays on Saturday at the CenturyLink Center as Creighton welcomes the University of Evansville to Omaha. Tip-off against the Purple Aces is set for 7:05 p.m.