>> Video Below: Postgame press conference and game highlights
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Befitting the night, Creighton looked like it was caught in a snow drift early in Wednesday's game against Tulsa.
Little was working offensively for the Bluejays, and they were contributing to the problems with some uncharacteristic sloppiness.
“It wasn't pretty,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said.
Fortunately for the Bluejays, Gregory Echenique gave his teammates a chance to steady themselves. An early run of 10 points by the 6-foot-9 center never allowed Tulsa to take advantage of the slow start and helped pave the way for a 71-54 victory at the CenturyLink Center.
“He really led us through there,” Gibbs said. “Nobody came out firing, and he was in there grabbing rebounds and scoring. He kept us afloat until some guys started knocking down some shots.
“We're a different team when he's playing that way. He got off to a great start and played really well tonight.”
Echenique, who ran into some second-half foul trouble, finished with 15 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Avery Dingman took over after Echenique's initial surge, making all but one of nine shots from the field in scoring a career-high 21 points.
Doug McDermott, coming off 30- and 34-point performances in his previous two games, never got his game kicked into gear but still finished with 16 points. Twelve came in the second half as he teamed with Dingman to help the No. 17 Bluejays hold off the young but scrappy Golden Hurricane.
The win, on a night in which an estimated crowd of 6,000 braved the snowy conditions to make it to the game, improved Creighton to 11-1, marking the first time the Bluejays have posted 11 victories before Christmas. Paid attendance was 15,102.
In many ways, Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, the performance resembled more the one game his team didn't win than the 10 that it had prior to Wednesday night.
“That game had a lot of Boise State written all over it,” said McDermott, referring to the 83-70 loss his team suffered on Nov. 28. “In terms of energy and reaction time, it was very similar.”
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“We defended a little bit better tonight, particularly in the first 14 or 15 minutes of the game when we built the lead,” McDermott said, “But we just weren't ourselves tonight. Seventeen turnovers, 19 fouls is not what we've been about through the first 12 games.
“I think there is a lot to learn from this game. I didn't think we played very well and we still won by 17, so there are some positives to build on.”
Both teams struggled out of the gate, combining for 17 turnovers and 21 missed shots in the first 12 minutes. At that point, Creighton held a 14-8 lead, with Echenique having 10 of the points.
He laughed when it was suggested his fast start might have been the result of having his parents in the house. Jose and Maria Echenique have made the trip from Venezuela to be with their son for the holidays.
“I'm happy that they're here, but I try to block all that stuff out,” he said. “I just try to block all that stuff out. I was just trying to play my game and stay focused.
“If you let a lot of the outside stuff get to you, it can take you out of your game. I was just trying to play hard, and plays were falling for me.”
Two of Echenique's baskets came on dunks, which provided both his teammates and the crowd with some much-needed energy.
“That was very important,” Creighton guard Austin Chatman said. “And he was a big force on the defensive end, too.”
After Echenique helped Creighton weather the initial storm, his teammates took over. Dingman had five points, and Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat made back-to-back 3-point shots in a 13-3 run that staked Creighton to a 27-11 lead with 4:36 left in the half.
The Bluejays stretched their advantage to 20 points right before halftime, then settled for a 38-20 edge at the break. Tulsa managed to trim its deficit to 11 points early in the half and was still within a dozen with five minutes to play.
Dingman then finished off his big night with his final two 3-point baskets as the Bluejays rebuilt their advantage to 22.
The sophomore guard finished 8 of 9 from the field, making 5 of his 6 3-point attempts. He also had a career-high three steals.
The latter contribution delighted Greg McDermott, who got on Dingman several times in Tuesday's practice about his effort.
“Avery provided us some energy in the first half when we were lacking some,” the coach said. “It's amazing that when you play that way, your shots tend to fall.”
Dingman's playing time has increased since Josh Jones was lost four games ago with a heart issue. The 23 minutes he played against Tulsa was a season high.
“Josh was playing 20 minutes a game, so those minutes had to go somewhere,” Dingman said. “It's unfortunate not having Josh here, but someone has to step up. I'm trying to play some big minutes.”
With Dingman and Echenique combining to make 15 of 18 shots, Creighton finished the night shooting 51.9 percent from the field. That helped offset the season-high 17 turnovers the Jays committed, as well as getting outrebounded 35-28.
Tulsa finished with 25 turnovers while shooting 37.5 percent from the field.
“We have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball,” Tulsa coach Danny Manning said. “Our turnovers led to 32 of their points, and that's tough to overcome.
“Their defense caused some of those turnovers, but, as a team, there were times we needed to be stronger with the basketball. Good teams take advantage of that. They're definitely a good team, and they took advantage of that.”
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