The Creighton men’s basketball team continues to roll, racking up wins and climbing the national polls. The Jays stretched their winning streak to 10 after recording big wins against Drake University at home and Missouri State University on the road this past week. The Jays are now 16-1 on the season, tied with Syracuse University, the University of Michigan and the University of Gonzaga for the best record in the country.
Junior forward Doug McDermott put on a show in Creighton’s 74-52 win at Missouri State. The Jays were up 32-27 at halftime and looked to have a close game on their hands. Then the second half began, and McDermott, who scored 11 points in the first half, took over. McDermott scored at will and in nearly every way imaginable, hitting his first 11 shots and scoring the first 18 points of the half for the Jays.
Cut to the basket for a lefty layup. Mid-range post-up and back down, drop step into a turn-around fade-away 12-footer. Pump fake and drive past his defender for the floater plus the foul. Quick release 3-pointer from the top of the key. Lefty hook through contact for the and-one. Face-up fade-away jumper off his left foot. Heat check 3-pointer with a hand in his face. Two-and-a-half minutes of rest on the bench and then right back at it with a running lefty finish off the glass. Catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. Left wide open at the top of the key and gets fouled on the 3-point attempt; hits all three free throws. Catches on the wing and drives down the middle for the layup. Finally he misses on a face-up jumper, but on the next play he hits a wide open teammate for the 3-ball before checking out.
When the dust settled an McDermott took his seat on the bench, the Jays were up 70-46 with just over three minutes remaining. McDermott scored 28 points in 14 minutes in the second half, while Missouri State as a team scored just 25 points after the break. Stretching back to the first half, McDermott hit 14 shots in a row before missing his final attempt, and he finished 15-19 from the field, including 3-4 from downtown. Think about that for a second: 28 points in 14 minutes in the second half, 39 total points on just 19 shot attempts. Efficient doesn’t even begin to describe what McDermott did to the Bears. The All-American also chipped in a game-high 10 rebounds for his third double-double this season.
“Doug got on an unbelievable roll, one that you don’t see real often in college basketball,”McDermott’s father and Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said. “When that happens with him we kind of get him the ball and get out of his way and let him play. He was outstanding.”
“I was just in the zone,” Doug said. “Everything was going in and my teammates kind of saw that and they kept giving me the ball.”
While it was most definitely the McDermott show, he wasn’t the only one who played well for the Jays. Junior guard Jahenns Manigat scored 11 points on 4-6 shooting, and was also the primary defender tasked with slowing down the Bears’ leading scorer senior guard Anthony Downing. Downing, who torched Creighton in Omaha last year for 26 points, was held to just 10 points on 4-11 shooting.
Before hitting the road, the Jays played host to the Drake Bulldogs at CenturyLink Center Omaha, and sent them running home with their tales between their legs with a 30-point beatdown. Creighton shot 64.2 percent from the field and held Drake to just 35.6 percent en route to a 91-61 victory. Just like against the Bears, a Creighton power forward was the story of the game. Only this time, it wasn’t Doug McDermott.
Junior forward Ethan Wragge exploded off the bench for 22 points on 8-11 shooting, including 6-9 from deep, and also pulled down five rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. After struggling mightily in December and going 7-31 from 3-point range, Wragge has been lighting it up in January. He has connected on 16 of his 26 3-point attempts in the last four games, good for a ridiculous 61.5 percent. Greg McDermott said getting healthy was a big part of the turnaround in Wragge’s shooting.
“He’s healthy,” McDermott said. “He fought that arm injury for a while, and then as it healed I think it was in his head. He finally got rid of that darn sleeve he was wearing and since then he’s been pretty good.
“The last few games, I’ve got the feel back, I’m a little more confident,” Wragge said. “My arm’s feeling good. The guys did a really good job of finding me in stride and not making me get out of rhythm with the pass.”
There isn’t another team in the country with a one-two punch at power forward like McDermott and Wragge.
McDermott put up a quiet 16 points and led everyone with seven rebounds. Manigat and senior guard Grant Gibbs also played well, combining for 23 points on 8-10 shooting, eight rebounds and nine assists. Sophomore point guard Austin Chatman finished with a game-high nine assists to go with his five points.
Two wins by a combined 52 points looks great on a resume, but perhaps the best part of the blowout victories was the opportunity for Greg McDermott to rest some of his veteran starters and get some of the younger players more time on the court. Gibbs, who is playing on bad knees, averaged over 32 minutes per game over the previous seven games before playing 39 total minutes in the last two. Chatman averaged over 35 minutes per game in the previous three before only playing 28 minutes against Drake. Those two have had to play big minutes since senior guard Josh Jones was lost due to heart issues, and getting rest for them whenever he can is a blessing for McDermott.
“It was great to [get the starters some rest],” McDermott said. “To only have Grant out there 17 minutes when he’s generally playing 35 or more. Doug gets 26, and Austin 10 less than he’s been playing. his will hopefully be good for us … because it’s been a long stretch.”
While those two got more rest, a couple younger players took advantage. Sophomore guard Avery Dingman has seen his role increase since Jones was ruled out, and has been rebounding the ball and shooting from deep at a high level, and with his length and athleticism, he has also become arguably Creighton’s best wing defender.
Redshirt freshman Nevin Johnson has also played very well in the last two games. Johnson, who was injured at the beginning of the year and took a while to get healthy again, had played a total of 18 minutes in seven games, scoring eight points. Then he came out and played 12 minutes against Drake, scoring nine points on 3-5 shooting. He also showed off his athleticism on both ends of the court, getting up and erasing a Bulldog shot and throwing down a high-flying two-handed dunk.
“I was pleased with the way Nevin played,” Greg McDermott said. “He has practiced a little bit better. Now his challenge is to do it consistently … [His performance against Drake] was certainly a step in the right direction.”
Johnson followed that game up by playing 13 minutes, scoring five points, hauling in two rebounds and dishing out two assists against the Bears. If Johnson can get that consistency McDermott talked about down and maintain this level of play throughout the rest of the season, he adds yet another weapon to a Jays line-up already stacked with deadly shooters.
The Jays return home on Monday to face the University of Northern Iowa. The Panthers have struggled a bit this season and got off to a 1-3 start in conference play. However, they are coming off a dominant 31-point victory over the Bradley University Braves and will be looking to get their season back on track in Omaha. Northern Iowa features an explosive perimeter scorer in senior guard Anthony James who hit a game-winning shot against the Jays last year and is averaging 15.5 points per game in the last four games for the Panthers. They also have a talented frontcourt including senior forward Jake Koch and last year’s MVC Freshman of the Year Seth Tuttle. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m.