Creighton came into Sunday’s game wanting to put some runs into the Blue Hose.
The No. 15 Bluejays knew they had to get the pace of the game to their liking to keep outmanned Presbyterian from mounting an upset. Their ability to do so paved the way for an 87-58 victory in the teams’ opening game of the Las Vegas Invitational.
“We knew coming in that they were going to play all 30 or 35 seconds of the shot clock,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “When we got the ball, we really had to try to run them into the ground.”
Presbyterian succeeded in grinding out the first nine minutes of the game at CenturyLink Center that had a paid attendance of 16,801. The Blue Hose trailed 10-9 with 11:44 to play and had the ball with a chance to take their second lead of the game.
The Bluejays then started getting stops on defense and making 3-pointers in transition against the Presbyterian zone. Wragge buried three in a row in the string of four straight that Creighton hit to stretch its lead to 22-11 in 116 seconds.
The Bluejays outscored Presbyterian 33-8 in the final 11 minutes of the half to take a 43-17 lead at the break. Creighton shot 59.1 percent from the field in the opening 20 ninutes and had a dozen assists on 13 baskets.
The Bluejays finished with 24 assists on 32 field goals and shot a season-high 61.5 percent from the field, including making 12 of 24 shots from beyond the arc.
“This was the best offensive team we’ve played against since we’ve been Division I,” said Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert, whose program has been competing at the highest level since 2007. “We’ve played a lot of big schools, and I’m talking about everybody, top 10, whatever.
“They have a great passer, great players, great drivers, a complete bench. They have a great team, and in April, you’ll be seeing them in Atlanta.”
Nibert might have gotten a bit carried away in predicting a Final Four spot for the Bluejays, but his praise for 3-0 Creighton was sincere. There also was little doubt in Nibert’s mind which Bluejay was the player of the game.
Wragge finished with 18 points, making 6 of 8 3-pointers.
“We tried to pick our poison and hope like heck, but Wragge really killed us,” Nibert said. “We didn’t have an answer. His four 3-pointers (in the first half) crushed us.”
Doug McDermott also did a pretty fair job of landing blows that took the starch out of the Blue Hose. The All-America forward scored Creighton’s first seven points and had 20 of his 24 at halftime.
McDermott made 7 of 9 shots from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers, and all eight of his free throws. He played 22 minutes, going to the bench for good after his steal and layup with 13:27 to play gave Creighton a 59-26 lead.
The 6-foot-8 junior was coming off his second-lowest scoring game as a Bluejay when he had five points in Wednesday’s 17-point win against Alabama-Birmingham.
“I got into a rhythm early, and my teammates did a good of finding me in transition,” McDermott said. “That kind of got me going right off the bat.”
Creighton also got nine points each from Austin Chatman and Josh Jones and eight from Gregory Echenique. Chatman tacked on a career-high 11 assists, while Echenique grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.
Presbyterian (0-3) got 25 points out of sophomore forward Jordan Downing. Khalid Mutakabbir added 12 for the Blue Hose, whose 41 points and 51.7 percent field-goal shooting in the second half displeased Bluejay coach Greg McDermott.
Creighton played reserves most of the final 13 minutes. In all, 16 Bluejays played and a dozen scored.
“I liked the way we started the second half, but not how we played the last 13 or 14 minutes,” the coach said. “We need to sustain defense for longer periods of that. I’m disappointed we gave up 41 points in the second half.
“I’d like to see guys coming off the bench with a little more urgency. But I was pleased how we executed our plan, got the ball where it needed to be and had some shooters step up and knock down some shots.”
Contact the writer:
402-679-2298, email@example.com, twitter.com/PivOWH
* * *
>> Video: Creighton postgame press conference