With only seven scholarship players active, Creighton’s men’s basketball started its season on Tuesday with a 81-55 win over Kennesaw State.
Junior guard Ty-Shon Alexander led the team in scoring with 19 points. Sophomore guard Marcus Zegarowski was right behind him with 18 points of his own.
Alexander, Zegarowski and junior guard Mitch Ballock return as three of Creighton’s top four scorers from a year ago.
“I’m asking a lot of [Ty-Shon], Mitch and Marcus. Everyone else really hasn’t played for us before,” coach Greg McDermott said after the game. “Christian [Bishop] played a little at the end of last year, but everyone else that we’re playing, this is new to them.”
Without three key contributors injured, senior guard Davion Mintz, sophomore center Jacob Epperson and junior forward Damien Jefferson, Creighton looked toward its newcomers during its first game of the new season.
True freshman guard and Omaha native Shareef Mitchell became just the third true freshman to start in their first career game, following in the footsteps of current NBA players Doug McDermott and Khryi Thomas. He scored eight points and had three steals in his collegiate regular season debut.
“That’s a kid from Omaha playing his first game as a Creighton Blue- jay. There’s a lot of emotions going through his body today,” McDermott said of Mitchell following the game. “I was happy to see him step up and really make some good plays on both ends of the floor.”
With Epperson out indefinitely, senior center Kelvin Jones is expected to see a bigger role this season than previously expected. Jones played 16 minutes in his first game as a Bluejay, scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds.
Sophomore forward Christian Bishop got the start at the 5-spot during the season opener. After going scoreless in the first-half of Tuesday’s game, Bishop scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the second half, finishing the game with 12 total.
Freshmen guards Jalen Windham and Jett Canfield, along with freshman forward Nic Zeil, saw minutes on the floor as well.
McDermott noted the difficulty the injuries have on the start of the season, but described the experience the newcomers will have when Big East conference play begins as a “silver lining.”
The game showcased how Creighton expects to play this season: fast. According to stats from Ken Pomeroy’s KenPom.com, Creighton averaged 12.9 seconds per offensive possession on Tuesday. That was the fastest in the NCAA, as of games completed on Tuesday.
On the first play of the season for the Jays, Zegarowski intercepted a pass and found Alexander in transition for a three. Creighton went on to start the game going 5-for-5 from behind the
The Jays will look to rely heavily on the 3-point shot again this season after finishing last year 13th in the NCAA shooting 38.7% from 3-point range.
On Tuesday, the Jays shot 48% from deep.
“We wanted to show people how we’re going to be this year,” Alexander said. “We’re going to play fast. We’re going to play defense, and we’re going to move and score the ball.”
The Jays were picked to finish seventh in the Big East by the league’s coaches. Alexander earned preseason All-Big East first team.
After earning a No. 8 seed in 2018, Creighton missed the NCAA tournament last year.
Creighton faces its first test of the season when they travel to Michigan on Tuesday for the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Michigan went 28-6 last sea- son, earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, where they fell in the Sweet 16.
Other notable non-conference games for Creighton include Nebraska at home on Dec. 7, Oklahoma at home on Dec. 17 and on the road against Arizona State on Dec. 21.