NORMAL, Ill. — Of all the things that keep Creighton coach Greg McDermott awake at night, Ethan Wragge's shooting isn't one of them.
Even when Wragge is mired in a 7-of-33 slump from beyond the 3-point arc.
“He's one of the best shooters in the country, and he's just had a tough stretch here,” McDermott said. “He had a little injury with his elbow that impacted him, but I think he's back to doing what he does best.”
Wragge had started the season red hot from beyond the arc but hit a tough stretch starting in the Nov. 28 loss to Boise State. He went 1 of 5 on 3-point attempts that night and continued to be missing in action throughout a 6-for-28 December.
After shooting 58.3 percent from 3-point range in Creighton's first six games, Wragge's slump had sent his percentage dipping to .406 heading into Wednesday's game at Illinois State.
Shortly after entering the game in the first half, Creighton ran a play for Wragge and he buried his first shot. He hit his second on the Bluejays' next possession, then knocked down two more before his fifth attempt just rimmed out.
The 6-foot-7 junior made another 3-pointer shortly before halftime and another in the second half to finish 6 of 9 from beyond the arc in scoring a game-high 18 points in the No. 16 Bluejays' 79-72 win.
“I haven't been shooting the ball well the last four or five games,'' Wragge said. “But I've been making a lot of shots in practice. We ran that play for me right after I got in, and I got it to go.
“That felt good. The next time, they didn't get to me so I let it go. I got some shots to fall early and just went from there.”
Wragge's 18 points matched the season high he registered in a Nov. 18 win over Presbyterian. He made six 3-point shots in that game, too.
McDermott said he knew it was just a matter of time before Wragge shook his slump. So did his teammates.
“He took off his arm sleeve today,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “He thought that was the trick, and it obviously was.”
Gibbs capitalizes on Redbirds' defense
Grant Gibbs made Illinois State pay for the lack of respect the Redbirds had in his shooting ability.
In an attempt to clog the middle, Illinois State played off Gibbs for most of the game. That left him with not only some open 3-point looks but plenty of space to drive the ball to the basket.
“They were sagging off of me, and we've had some teams do that,” Gibbs said. “I just have to pick my spots to look for open shots. I can make open shots.”
Gibbs made 5 of 8 shots, including a couple of 3-pointers, in the first 20 minutes. He finished the game 6 of 12 from the field in scoring 16 points, one shy of his season high.
“There are a lot of advantages if people want to play like that,” Gibbs said. “I can see the floor better. I just have to make the adjustments as we figure out each night where the shots are going to come from.”
Creighton scores big from 3-point range
Creighton made a season-high 13 3-point baskets in 25 attempts, while Illinois State also finished with 13 on 28 attempts.
Tyler Brown and Bryant Allen both made three shots from beyond the arc in leading the Redbirds with 15 points apiece. Zeke Upshaw also made three 3-point attempts in an 11-point effort.
But when Illinois State needed a 3-pointer late in the game to tie, the Redbirds didn't get the basketball to any one of those three. Instead, 6-9 Jackie Carmichael took the attempt with the shot clock winding down and his team trailing 73-70.
Carmichael, 1 of 6 from 3-point range coming into the game, air-balled the shot, and Creighton sealed the victory with free throws in the final eight seconds.
“I should have called timeout midway through the possession,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “We ran a play to try to get a quick two but didn't get it. The ball kept moving around, and I should have called time to draw something up but didn't.
“Jackie had an open look, but that wasn't the best shot we could get.”
Jays challenged Redbird shooters
Illinois State finished the game shooting 42.2 percent from the field. The Redbirds came into the game 14th nationally and first in the Valley in field-goal percentage (.497).
“Our plan coming in was to try to make these guys take the shots we want them to take instead of the shots they wanted to take,” Greg McDermott said. “There were some stretches in the game where their offensive ability was able to shine through.
“They're a talented offensive team, but there were times when we made them take some challenged shots. When we rebounded it, which we did the second half, we were in much better shape.”
Bits and pieces
Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique both played in spite of battling strep throat. Echenique missed a couple of days of practice, and McDermott admitted he still felt under-the-weather on Wednesday. … Creighton finished with a 35-32 rebounding advantage. The Redbirds held an 18-14 edge at halftime, which helped them to a 7-0 advantage in second-chance points. They finished with a 9-4 edge in that category. … ESPN named McDermott its national player of the month for December. He averaged 26.5 points in leading Creighton to a 6-0 record. … The Bluejays ran their winning streak to seven games. … Illinois State dropped to 0-8 against ranked teams at Redbird Arena. The last time the Redbirds beat a rated team at home was in 1984, before the arena opened. … Creighton has won five straight games away from home to open the season for the first time since 1999-2000. … McDermott's 15 points pushed his career total to 1,703, putting him 40th on the Valley's all-time scoring chart.
— Steven Pivovar