There was nothing about Mary that left Creighton feeling overconfident Friday night as it moved within a week of opening its season.
Sure, the Bluejays outshot, outrebounded and, for the most part, outhustled their Division II opponent from Bismarck, N.D., in posting an 89-51 exhibition game victory at the CenturyLink Center.
But everyone on the Creighton side knew the Marauders bore little resemblance to the North Texas team that will show up Friday to tip off the season against the Bluejays.
“The little I’ve seen of North Texas, they’re very, very talented and very, very athletic,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “They’re going to pose some problems that I don’t think we’ve seen in our scrimmage against Iowa or tonight.
“Part of those are difficult to simulate in practice, because we don’t have a guy who is 6-9 and has a 40-inch vertical jump like Tony Mitchell. It’s going to be a challenge, and North Texas may very well be one of the more talented teams we play in the nonconference.”
The University of Mary also didn’t have anyone 6-foot-9 with a 40-inch vertical. The Marauders’ tallest players were a trio of 6-6 guys. And athletic isn’t a description that often will be used to size up a squad picked to finish 14th in its 16-team conference.
But former Bluejay Jevin Budde got his team to play hard for 40 minutes, which is exactly what Creighton wanted from its only exhibition-game opponent. After losing the first half 61-21, Mary outscored the Bluejays 30-28 in the final 20 minutes.
“We got off to kind of a shaky start, but then put together a big run and were clicking,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “In the second half, we could have done a much better job. They beat us by two in the second half, and we have to improve there.”
Avery Dingman, who scored 18 points to share game-high scoring honors with McDermott, fueled a 17-0 first-half outburst that allowed Creighton to turn a 10-10 tie into a 27-10 lead in less than five minutes. Dingman scored 13 of his 18 points in the spurt, making three 3-pointers, a layup and two free throws.
The only shot Dingman missed in the first 20 minutes was a driving layup that Will Artino tipped in for a 49-21 lead. Dingman finished 6 of 8 from the field and added six rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes that showcased his improvement from last season.
“I realized that last year my defense kept me off the floor at times,” the 6-6 sophomore said. “This year, I’ve been working on keeping my mind on being in the right spot when I get tired. That’s one thing I’m trying to improve on.”
Led by Dingman’s hot shooting, Creighton made 19 of 30 first-half field goals (63.3 percent) and 10 of 15 3-pointers (66.7 percent). The Bluejays cooled down after halftime, shooting 28 percent from the field and making 1 of 10 3-pointers.
“I thought we moved the ball in the first half and did defensively what I wanted to have done,” Greg McDermott said. “I wasn’t as pleased with the second half. I thought we lacked focus to start the second half defensively, turned the basketball over too much, fouled too much. And that’s stuff we have to clean up.
“Rather than letting them play through it, I decided not to risk anyone getting hurt.”
Creighton’s starters played a combined 28 minutes after halftime.
Creighton played without Jahenns Manigat, who started all 35 games last season, and Nevin Johnson, a redshirt freshman who was expected to contend for a spot in the rotation. Manigat has been nursing a thigh bruise that forced him to miss more than a week of practice, while Johnson is out with a high ankle sprain.
Josh Jones started in Manigat’s place and scored 13 points. Artino added nine points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds as the Bluejays finished with a 49-33 advantage on the boards.
Greg McDermott said he was pleased with the play of point guards Austin Chatman and Andre Yates. Chatman, a sophomore taking over for three-year starter Antoine Young, finished with four assists and no turnovers but did not score.
Yates, a true freshman, had four points, five rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in 17 minutes. Creighton’s other true freshman, guard Isaiah Zierden, was 0 for 5 from the field but made four free throws and had six rebounds in 18 minutes.
One of the two probably will redshirt this season, but their coach wasn’t ready to announce any decisions after Friday’s game.
“The injuries have thrown a wrench into some of our plans,” McDermott said. “We wanted to use them both at the point and evaluate from there.”
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