The challenge facing Creighton in its next three games is one that two seasons ago would have given the Bluejays a case of the willies.
Creighton plays its next three games on the road — Saturday at Wichita State, Wednesday at Drake and Jan. 27 at Southern Illinois. Winning away from home is difficult for any college basketball team, and it was close to impossible for the Bluejays when Doug McDermott and Jahenns Manigat were freshmen.
“We didn't look forward to going on the road then,” Manigat said.
Said McDermott: “My freshman year, we lost so many games on the road where it came down to a final play or a missed free throw.”
Creighton was 3-11 in true road games during the 2010-11 season and 4-13 in all games played away from the CenturyLink Center. One of the road losses was by a point, three were by two points, one was by three points and two were by five points. In addition, the Bluejays dropped a three-point game on a neutral court.
Things have changed for the Bluejays in the past season and a half. Creighton is 21-4 in games played away from home in that span, including a 14-3 record in true road games.
In getting off to a 17-1 start this season, the No. 12 Bluejays have won their first six games away from home for the first time since the 1942-43 season. The six wins include double-digit victories against four power conference schools.
“We now have a mindset that we're going to do what we have to do to escape with a victory,” Manigat said.
The roots of that mindset, senior Grant Gibbs said, began developing early last season. The Bluejays won road games at Alabama-Birmingham and San Diego State by showing some mettle that they had lacked the previous season.
When both of those games were in danger of slipping away, Creighton made plays that turned the momentum in its favor and eventually led to wins.
“Looking back on some of those games last year, we built a lot of confidence and the belief that you need to win on the road,” Gibbs said. “We got those early ones and we got some momentum.
“We started to feel like we could go on the road and be prepared to pull out wins.”
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McDermott credits the work the Bluejays have done in the past two offseasons for preparing them to deal with the challenges of playing on the road.
“We worked through certain situations that you know you're going to be in on the road,” he said. “And we have a mature bunch with a good amount of focus. When we hit that plane or that bus, we're ready to go.”
Creighton's 14-3 record in true road games since the start of the 2011-12 season is one of the best in college basketball. Only three schools — Murray State (19-1, .950), Syracuse (12-1, .923) and Kansas (10-2, .833) — have better winning percentages on the road in that span.
The Bluejays' 14 wins ties Virginia Commonwealth for the second-most road wins behind Murray State's 19.
One of those wins came last season at Wichita State, when the Bluejays posted a 68-61 victory that silenced one of the most vociferous home crowds around. Creighton trailed by eight points at halftime of that game but held the Shockers to 22 points in the second half.
The Shockers have not lost at Koch Arena since as their 17-game home winning streak ranks ninth nationally.
The Bluejays know their visit Saturday will have the joint jumping, as is usually the case when Creighton and Wichita State square off. The stakes are high, with the Bluejays trying to protect the one-game lead they have on the Shockers in the Missouri Valley race.
“It's a great rivalry and it will be an unbelievable environment,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It also will be a terrific opportunity for our team and our program to go on the road and see if we can win in a tough environment like that.”
Wragge named scholar-athlete of the week
Creighton's Ethan Wragge was named Missouri Valley Conference scholar-athlete of the week on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior averaged 14.0 points — shooting 7 of 11 from 3-point range — and 6.0 rebounds in Creighton's two victories this week.
He tied his career high with 22 points in 17 minutes during a 91-61 victory over Drake.
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