• Box Score: Creighton 75, Evansville 69
• Photo Showcase: Creighton men's basketball, Feb. 5
• Video: Creighton-Evansville highlights, postgame press conference
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Throw schematics and sideline strategy out of the equation Saturday that produced Creighton’s 75-69 victory over Evansville.
This one was about competing, plain and simple. That’s something the Bluejays haven’t always done in their 15-10 season, but it was the difference between victory and defeat against the Purple Aces.
“We just needed to get back to competing,’’ Creighton center Kenny Lawson said. “This game wasn’t so much about what Evansville does or the X’s and O’s of the game. It was about us playing hard and having a sense of urgency.’’
That’s the message Creighton coach Greg McDermott tried to get across to his players in the two grueling practices that followed last Tuesday’s loss to last-place Bradley. He admitted he was taking a bit of a chance, especially when he didn’t let up on his players in the day-before-the-game practice on Friday.
But he liked what he saw Saturday, especially after Evansville came out and made 7 of its first 9 shots.
“When a team does that, it can be deflating,’’ McDermott said. “But our guys just continued to compete. This is a really good win for us because Evansville is a team that is playing with a lot of confidence and is on a roll. Those are scary teams to play.’’
The Purple Aces had won six of their past seven games entering Saturday’s contest, which drew 14,850 to Qwest Center Omaha. They left tied with Creighton and Indiana State for fourth place in the Missouri Valley standings at 7-6.
Evansville’s inability to match Creighton’s intensity in two key stretches was the difference in the outcome, Purple Aces coach Marty Simmons said. The Bluejays ran off nine straight points to close the first half and take a 37-32 lead to the dressing room.
Evansville cut its deficit to a point early in the second half and trailed by four when Creighton hit it with another run, this one a 13-0 spurt in which Antoine Young scored nine of his game-high 21 points.
“We had some spurts where they put us on our heels,’’ Simmons said. “When they turned the intensity up, we didn’t respond the way we needed to. We turned the ball over, and you just can’t do that. You have to value the ball, and when we’ve had success, it’s because we’re taking care of it.’’
Evansville had 12 turnovers, but several came in bunches during Creighton’s key spurts. The Purple Aces also were outrebounded 35-24, with Creighton getting 15 offensive rebounds that produced a 17-0 edge in second-chance points.
Those are indicators coaches like to point to in measuring intensity. Another is bodies on the floor, and Creighton’s biggest, 270-pound Gregory Echenique, hit the deck in a chase for a loose ball near the Evansville bench late in the game.
McDermott was all smiles as he watched Echenique almost take out half of the Evansville players and coaches.
“The message we tried to get across to them these last two days was what we were doing from a schematic standpoint makes absolutely no difference if we don’t compete,’’ McDermott said. “That play late in the game with Gregory diving into their bench has to be who we are.
“We haven’t done enough of that, and it’s my job to get more of that out of this team. But I thought we did a good job of that today.’’
In addition to Young’s 21 points and seven assists, the Bluejays got 15 points and 10 rebounds from Doug McDermott, 12 points from Josh Jones and 11 each from Echenique and Lawson.
Colt Ryan’s 20 points paced Evansville, while Denver Holmes added 15 for the 13-10 Purple Aces, who shot 57.1 percent from the field.
Numbers on the stat sheet, though, meant little to the Bluejays, who carried around the sting of losing to Bradley for three days. Young used the word “embarrassed” to describe the Bluejays’ mindset after the loss to a team that had lost its first 11 Valley games.
“I think we responded well,’’ Young said. “It shows a lot of character about our team that after we got embarrassed up in Peoria, we came out and played a good game today.
“We just started playing and competing and getting down on the defensive end. That’s probably the most we’ve talked on the defensive end all year. I think we’ve figured out if we don’t talk, we’re going to get beat.’’
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