Gregory Echenique makes amends worthy of his stature.
Upset with his play in Creighton's first loss of the season, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Echenique was intent on putting together a better performance in Saturday's game against St. Joseph's.
“I felt I let the team down against Boise,” Echenique said. “As a senior, part of my responsibility is to get this team where it wants to be. I knew I had to bring it.”
The Hawks can attest to that.
Echenique contributed 16 points, six rebounds, a blocked shot and a whole lot of defense in the Bluejays' 80-51 win that provided a perfect bounce-back from last Wednesday's loss to Boise State.
Echenique scored nine points and had three rebounds against the Broncos. He knows his team needs more than that from him. So does Creighton coach Greg McDermott, and he let Echenique know it.
“We were probably a little too hard on Gregory after the Boise game,” McDermott said. “We just see so much more in him than what he gives us sometimes. He might get unfairly picked on by the coaching staff.”
McDermott said Echenique's performance in practice in the two days before the St. Joseph's game indicated he was prepared to make a greater impact.
“On Friday, he had maybe his best practice as a Bluejay,” McDermott said. “He was engaged and his effort was off the charts. My message to him before the game was that he didn't need to do anything that he hadn't done yesterday in practice.
“He just needed to approach the game as he did practice. He ran the floor, he sealed hard, he went after rebounds. And not a lot of teams have the luxury of playing Ronald Roberts one-on-one inside.”
Roberts came into the game averaging a double-double (11.6 points, 10.8 rebounds) for St. Joseph's. The 6-8 junior scored three points and had five rebounds as the combination of Echenique and foul trouble limited his production.
“Echenique was a very significant part of that game,” St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said.
Said McDermott: “Gregory was the best big man of the floor, without a doubt.”
A key factor in Saturday's performance was that Echenique got involved early on the offensive end. He had 11 points, with two of his baskets coming on emphatic dunks, as Creighton raced to a 36-10 lead in the first 13 minutes.
“He was active and he was doing the things that we need him to do with intensity and attention to detail,” Bluejay guard Grant Gibbs said. “It's pretty obvious that we're a different team when he plays that way.
“He has to build off this game and realize the reason he was successful was how hard he worked.”
It's obvious to Echenique that his effectiveness seems to increase when he hits his flow early in the game.
“I think I always have better games when I'm involved from the beginning,” said Echenique, averaging 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds after Creighton's first eight games. “I think my teammates realize that, and they also can see and buy into it when they see how hard I'm playing.
“I think we'll try to use the same plan in our next game.”
That will be Thursday, when the No. 11 Bluejays travel to Lincoln to face Nebraska. Echenique will go into that game off a performance that reinforced the confidence he has.
“I knew I could have done more against Boise,” he said. “I wanted to show it in this game.”
When McDermott took Echenique out of the St. Joseph's game for the final time, he shared a few words with his big man.
“He said, 'I told you that if you practice well it carries over into the game,'” Echenique said. “Hopefully, I can keep that going.”
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