Creighton followed an eyebrow-raising performance in its last game with a jaw-dropping effort on Saturday.
The No. 11 Bluejays used 17 minutes of the best basketball they’ve played in a long, long time to build a 30-point lead, then coasted to an 80-51 victory over St. Joseph’s before a paid sellout of 17,390 at the CenturyLink Center.
The dismantling of the Hawks came three days after Creighton had played poorly in dropping its first game of the season, 83-70 to Boise State.
“We’ve talked this week not so much about what we do offensively and defensively but how we do it,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Wednesday night, Boise State did the things we usually do.”
McDermott noted that the Broncos had basically out-competed Creighton in that game, getting to loose balls and rebounds and setting up teammates with the extra pass.
“We didn’t need to change anything for today,” McDermott said. “We just had to get back to who we are.”
Creighton did that Saturday in most impressive fashion on both ends of the court. Playing a St. Joseph’s team that had beaten them by nine points last season and is the preseason pick to win the tough Atlantic-10, the Bluejays took control early by taking the Hawks totally out of their game.
Creighton shot 56.6 percent from the field and got points from a dozen players. The Bluejays limited St. Joseph’s to 15 points in the first 16½ minutes of the game, held the Hawks to 37.7 percent shooting and won the rebounding battle 32-25.
It was the kind of performance that quiets critics wondering after the Boise State game whether Creighton was a tad overrated.
“I think this shows a lot of maturity from our team,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “We never got too down on ourselves. We knew St. Joseph’s was a really good team and that we had to be ready.
“I think we sent the nation a statement by what we did.”
St. Joseph’s came into the game having won four of five. One of the Hawks’ victories was over Notre Dame, which last week posted a 14-point win over defending national champion Kentucky.
Add the fact Creighton was coming off a subpar performance and it appeared that Saturday’s meeting could be a battle to the wire. Instead, the Bluejays hung the Hawks out to dry with an early blitz that St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli tried to stem by calling a couple of timeouts in the first 12-plus minutes.
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McDermott led the charge by scoring 18 of his 23 points in the first 20 minutes. He had eight as Creighton jumped to a 12-3 lead, then chipped in seven more as the advantage grew to 21-5 with 11:10 to play. He then slipped a slick pass to Gregory Echenique that produced a three-point play and a jubilant fist pump from McDermott.
The Bluejays stretched the lead to 45-15 with 3:28 left in the half, rested on a 47-20 advantage at halftime and never let St. Joseph’s get closer than 24 points.
The blowout was the more the result of the players answering a gut-check rather than a brilliant game plan.
“It’s like Coach said, we just did the things we do a lot better and with more attention to detail,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “When we’re doing those things, we’re pretty good. When we’re not doing them, we’re not good at all.”
Martelli doesn’t hide his respect for Doug McDermott, calling him a “poor man’s Larry Bird.” With the way Creighton took apart his team, Martelli might have thought he was playing the poor men’s Boston Celtics.
“I’m a big believer that stars have to be stars in big games,” Martelli said. “McDermott was a star, and he had a look about him early on. Because he stays so much in motion and is so aggressive, he attracts all of your attention.
“I think the other guys play so well off him.”
Martelli pointed to the contributions of McDermott’s supporting cast. Echenique had 16 points, six rebounds and a blocked shot. Gibbs had nine assists against no turnovers and chipped in a couple of well-timed drives to the basket. Point guard Austin Chatman also chipped in six assists and shut down St. Joseph’s scoring leader Carl Jones on defense.
Jones, who torched Creighton for 29 points last season, finished 3 of 10 from the field and with nine points, half his season average. Langston Galloway’s 10 points led the Hawks.
But the conversation came back to McDermott, the Bluejays’ junior All-American.
“He’s got a little bit of everything in his game,” Martelli said. “He plays a beautiful game of basketball.”
Creighton’s performance was a thing of beauty because it was built on both ends of the court. The Bluejays had let Boise State shoot over and drive through their defense with the greatest of ease in Wednesday’s loss.
It was apparent from the get-go Saturday that Creighton was ready to step up defensively. The Jays clamped down individually and collectively. They dove on loose balls and flew through the air to snare rebounds.
They played with an aggressiveness they had shown in big wins over Wisconsin and Arizona State in Las Vegas but that had totally deserted them against Boise State.
Gibbs and Doug McDermott agreed the first 16 or 17 minutes they played on Saturday was some of their best basketball. They got no argument from their coach.
“Especially to do it against the team we did it against,” Greg McDermott said. “They have six guys averaging in double figures and they get one to double figures today. For the first 16 minutes, we played smart basketball and we played extremely hard.”
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>> Video: Creighton's postgame press conference: