>> Video Below: Creighton postgame press conference
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Evansville guard Colt Ryan got his points Saturday night, just as he always does against Creighton.
But the No. 16 Bluejays walked away from the CenturyLink Center with a relatively easy 87-70 win because of the job they did on Ryan’s supporting cast.
Sure, Troy Taylor got a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but Creighton held Ned Cox and D.J. Balentine scoreless. The two players came into the Missouri Valley opener averaging a combined 22.5 points.
“Someway, somehow, Colt is going to get his,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “That’s what we’ve come to expect, that’s what his team has come to expect.
“But we did a good job of keeping their complementary players — Cox and Balentine — in check. We knew if we didn’t have a Denver Holmes-type performance that we’d be doing our job defensively.”
Manigat was referring to the 25 points that Holmes tacked on to the arena-record 43 that Ryan scored in Evansville’s near upset of the Bluejays last February. Creighton needed a basket at the buzzer that night to force overtime and won 93-92.
Saturday, no other Evansville player scored more than Taylor’s 10 to keep the crowd of 18,458 — second-largest in school history — from having to sweat through a repeat of the drama of Evansville’s last visit to Omaha.
Meanwhile, Creighton backed another virtuoso performance by All-American Doug McDermott with solid efforts up and down the lineup. McDermott scored 29 points, including eight in a decisive stretch midway through the second half.
Gregory Echenique added 13 points and 13 rebounds. Manigat scored a season-high 13 to go along with five assists and four steals. Avery Dingman came off the bench to get 11 points, while point guard Austin Chatman had nine points, eight assists and no turnovers in 34 minutes.
“There were so many good performances tonight,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
It starts with Doug McDermott. He made 9 of 15 shots from the field and 10 of 11 free throws in pushing his scoring total for six December games to 159 — a 26.5 average. He also grabbed 10 rebounds — four on the offensive end — and had two assists that led to 3-point baskets by teammates.
It was the kind of performance that Evansville coach Marty Simmons feared coming into the game.
“He’s a hard guy to guard, and we tried different guys on him,” said Simmons, whose team fell to 7-6. “We wanted to limit his touches, we didn’t want to foul him and we wanted to keep him off the offensive glass. You look at the stats and we just didn’t execute that very well.”
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McDermott’s performance included an almost 10-minute dry spell in which Evansville managed to battle its way back into the game. The Purple Aces built a big hole in missing 15 of their first 20 shots. They scored only 14 points in the game’s first 13 minutes and trailed by 17 with 7:05 left in the half.
They trimmed it to 11 (45-34) at halftime, then scored the first four points of the second half to get within seven points. Evansville was still within 54-44 when McDermott scored eight points in an 11-2 run that shifted the momentum back in Creighton’s favor.
He scored on a follow shot, then added a three-point play on Creighton’s next possession and a free throw on the next. Ethan Wragge buried a 3-point shot off an assist from McDermott, and then McDermott drove for a layup that left Creighton ahead 65-46 with 11:53 to play.
“They did a real good job of defending me and were real physical,” McDermott said. “They crowded the lane like they usually do. I wasn’t worried about scoring because the attention they put on me just opens the floor up for all of my teammates.
“But once I got that putback, it got me going and got me playing a little harder on both ends of the court.”
McDermott had 16 of his 29 points after halftime, while Ryan had 15 of his 25 after the break. The senior guard came into the game averaging 23.3 points in seven career games against the Bluejays. His average in three previous trips to the CenturyLink Center was a whopping 31.3.
But he had difficulty getting going Saturday as Grant Gibbs, Manigat and Dingman took turns trying to keep him from getting open looks. Ryan missed four of his first five shots and was 3 of 8 from the field at the half. He finished 9 of 20 for the game.
“Colt got off to a slow start and they were getting into him,” Doug McDermott said. “Grant’s and Avery’s length was bothering him. He still ended up with 25, but that’s what he does. He’s a scorer.
“We forced him to shoot 9 of 20, and I thought our guys did a pretty good job on him throughout the game.”
The win, Creighton’s sixth straight, improved the Bluejays to 12-1 heading into an early conference showdown Wednesday at Illinois State. Creighton and the Redbirds were picked 1-2 in the preseason poll and staged an overtime battle in the championship game at last March’s Valley tournament.
“When we played there last year, they had a lot of people there,” Echenique said. “With the season we’re having, they’ll probably get more people there this time. We know we’ll get their best shot.
“Our coaches are going to come up with a plan, and we have to make sure these next three days to be locked in at practice so that we can be ready.”
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