The No.12 Creighton men’s basketball team opened Missouri Valley Conference play with another double-digit victory over the University of Evansville Purple Aces. The Jays received got big contributions from both the frontcourt and backcourt and dominated on the glass in the 87-70 win.
“It’s a good win for us because I think Evansville is going to win a lot of games before conference season is over,” head coach Greg McDermott said. “And watching them play throughout the year, not many teams have got them down 20 like we did tonight. So, proud of our guys.”
The last time the Purple Aces visited Omaha, the Jays narrowly escaped with a win in overtime as Evansville’s star guard Colt Ryan went off for 4- points. On Saturday, the Jays were determined not to let history repeat itself.
“We just felt like we can’t let Colt have a night like he had last year, let’s keep him under 50 percent,” McDermott said about his team’s defensive game plan.
The Jays did just that, particularly in the first half. Ryan didn’t score his first basket until seven minutes into the game, and he finished with just 10 points on 3-8 shooting in the first period. But Ryan wasn’t the only one who struggled offensively for the Aces, as Creighton held Evansville to just 14 points over the first 13 minutes. Over that same stretch, the Jays scored 31 and built up a 17-point lead.
But Evansville wasn’t ready to give up just yet, and got it going over the final seven minutes to cut the deficit to 11 at the break.
“We just didn’t have much energy,” junior forward Doug McDermott said. “We weren’t working as hard as we were to start the game … I think they scored on 11 of 14 possessions to end the half, so that’s something we have to change around, get better at. We can’t get complacent with the game, just have to keep playing on the defensive end every possession.”
Evansville’s run continued in the opening minutes of the second half, cutting the lead to seven before a layup by senior center Gregory Echenique and a 3-pointer by junior guard Jahenns Manigat put the Jays back up by 12. McDermott then scored eight of Creighton’s next 11 points and assisted on the other three by finding junior forward Ethan Wragge wide open in the corner. The All-American’s run put the Jays up 19, and Creighton held onto the lead for a 17-point win.
The Jays had a significant size advantage over the Purple Aces, and it showed in the final box score. Creighton dominated on the glass with a 43-27 edge in rebounds and both the Jays’ starting big men finished with double-doubles.
“We knew coming into the game, since they don’t have as much size as we do, crashing the boards offensively and defensively would be a key area,” Doug McDermott said. “I thought Greg did a really good job and I tried to put in more of an extra effort than I have been this year. It felt great to dominate the paint with Greg tonight.”
McDermott finished the game with 29 points and 10 rebounds, while Echenique had 13 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
The Creighton backcourt also played well. Sophomore point guard Austin Chatman finished just shy of a double-double of his own with nine points and eight assists with zero turnovers. Manigat recorded 13 points and five assists. Sophomore guard Avery Dingman hit three of his four 3-point attempts and finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.
“Avery’s been working his tail off trying to get extra shots up in practice, and he’s out there a lot more in practice now because of what happened [with Josh Jones], so he’s preparing himself as well as he can, and we have to continue to have the from him, because he’s a huge part of this team.”
Dingman also played a big part on the defensive end, taking turns with Manigat and senior guard Gran Gibbs guarding Ryan. Ryan did finish with 25 points, but the Jays held him to 9-20 shooting, below 50 percent as Greg McDermott was hoping for.
“[Ryan] got off to a slow start, and I thought they were getting into him,” Doug McDermott said. “Grant and Avery’s length was bothering him a little bit. He still ended up with 25, but that’s what he does. He’s a scorer. We forced him to shoot 9-20, so that’s pretty good defense. I thought they did a great job throughout the game.”
With all the attention paid to Ryan, 6-ffot-1 senior guard Troy Taylor stepped up for the Purple Aces and posted a triple-double with 10 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Greg McDermott said. “He had a triple-double. That’s pretty incredible for a point guard to do that.”
Creighton will travel to Normal, Ill. on Wednesday to take on the Illinois State University Redbirds in the first road game of the conference season for the Jays. Illinois State was picked to finish second in the Valley behind Creighton, and feature one of the best inside-outside duos in the conference in seniors center Jackie Carmichael and guard Tyler Brown. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m.