Published Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:28 am
BASKETBALL
Bluejays searching for ways to fill void left by Jones
Evansville at Creighton
When: 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: CenturyLink Center
TV: KMTV
Radio: 590 AM KXSP

>> Video Below: See Creighton's Josh Jones discuss his retirement from basketball

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The end of Josh Jones' basketball career will require his Creighton teammates to make some adjustments as they move forward.

But it probably won't require any change in the mindset they've adopted in the four games that Jones missed since his Dec. 6 heart episode.

“I think we had an idea that there was a real possibility that he wouldn't come back,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “Now we have the final word.

“This presents an opportunity for other people to step up. He's talked to people about that. We just have to have other people step up their production. That's how you handle a situation like this.”

Jones, the senior guard from Omaha Central, announced Wednesday that his heart condition would force him to give up basketball. He hadn't played since fainting and being rushed to the hospital prior to the Dec. 6 game at Nebraska.

Jones, who has been Creighton's first guard off the bench the past two seasons, had played an average of 19.6 minutes in the Bluejays' first eight games. He was averaging 7.0 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

Coach Greg McDermott shortened the rotation the past four games, with seven players getting the bulk of the playing time. Four of those players — Gibbs, Austin Chatman, Jahenns Manigat and Avery Dingman — are guards.

Gibbs, Chatman and Manigat are starters, while Dingman has moved into Jones' role.

“The reality of it is that it will never be like it was,” McDermott said. “We don't have a fifth-year senior sitting over there that we can bring off the bench that embraced the role we asked him to play. He played fearless basketball, and we no longer have that.

“We had a nine-man rotation with Josh that sometimes goes to 10, and now we have an eight-man rotation that sometimes goes to nine. It's going to impact how we're going to play. Watching us play without Josh, we're a different team. We're going to have to do the best we can with the guys we have left.”

The eighth man in the rotation since Jones went down has been center Will Artino, who played 1, 12, 4 and 8 minutes in the wins over Nebraska, Akron, California and Tulsa.

Creighton opens Missouri Valley play Saturday against Evansville. As the Bluejays get deeper into the grind of conference play, they might have to look to redshirt freshmen Nevin Johnson and true freshman Andre Yates to give the four guards in the rotation some additional breathers.

Yates started the season as Chatman's backup at the point but McDermott has shown the tendency to go with Gibbs, a senior who leads the team in assists, in the role the past half dozen games. Johnson missed the first three games while recovering from a preseason ankle injury, and has played 17 minutes in six games since returning to action.

Dingman has picked up the bulk of the reserve minutes since Jones went out. He had been averaging about 12 minutes in Creighton's first eight games. In the last four, he's averaged almost 18 minutes per game.

“I don't know if it's really changed my mind-set,” said Dingman, a sophomore from Branson, Mo. “I've been going into games with the same mind-set that I had. I have to be ready to provide a spark off the bench.

“Bottom line, that was my mind-set before Josh got sick. I have to be prepared to provide some energy when I'm in there.”

Dingman has averaged 8.0 points in Creighton's last four games, with the bulk of the production coming in the career-high 21 points he scored in the Dec. 19 victory over Tulsa. Overall, Dingman is averaging 5.8 points and 2.5 rebounds this season.

When Jones was playing, Creighton reserves outscored their counterparts by 158 points. In the four games without him, Creighton is minus-7 in bench scoring.

When the Bluejays were regularly playing nine players, they scored 77 points or more in six of the first eight games. With the rotation reduced to seven, they've scored fewer than 77 points in three of the four games.

Still, they maintain they can still be a productive team without Jones. In the interim since he got sick, Jones has talked to his teammates about what he expects from them.

“I think that was important,” Gibbs said. “There is always more value when you hear it from a teammate. And seeing how guys have stepped up has been encouraging.

“That has to continue. It obviously can't be a one-night deal. Josh did a lot for this team through last season and early this year. We have a lot of void to fill.”

Notes: Creighton has posted double-digit victories in each of its 11 wins. That ranks second nationally to Pitt, which has 12 wins each by 10 points or more. … How important is Saturday's game against Evansville? Since the 1993-94 season, only one team — Northern Iowa in 2008-09 — won or shared the regular-season Valley title without winning its opening conference game. … Creighton has not trailed in either of its last two games against California or Tulsa. In five December games, the Bluejays have been behind a total of four minutes and 21 seconds.

Contact the writer:

402-679-2298, steve.pivovar@owh.com, twitter.com/PivOWH

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>> Video: See Creighton's Josh Jones discuss his retirement from basketball:

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar

stevepivovar@hotmail.com    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.

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