Breaking news: Members of the Creighton basketball team avoided being hit Thursday by falling skies.
Nor were the Bluejays seen reaching for the panic button in the wake of two straight losses. Instead, they went back to work in an attempt to right a ship that at least a segment of their fan base fear is sinking.
“If we get back to playing our brand of basketball, things should just be fine,'' Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “It's brought us a lot of success, and there's no use trying to reinvent the wheel.''
That was Bluejays coach Greg McDermott's message to his team as it started preparing for Sunday's game at Southern Illinois. There are things that need to be cleaned up after the back-to-back losses to Wichita State and Drake, McDermott said, but there is no need to overreact.
“You want to make sure they understand what we could have done to find a way to get a win,'' McDermott said. “But you don't hit the panic button. We just need to do what we do a little bit better.
“The reality of it is that when things are good, they're probably not ever as good as they seem, and when things go bad, they're not as bad as it seems.''
The 17th-ranked Bluejays have stumbled on a rough patch after a 17-1 start that saw them post 16 wins by margins of 10 points or more. Wichita State snapped Creighton's 11-game winning streak with a 67-64 victory on Saturday in a game in which the Bluejays were victimized by breakdowns on defense and an inability to keep the Shockers off the offensive boards.
Creighton lost its second straight game on Wednesday when a Drake team that had lost in Omaha by 30 points on Jan. 8 pulled off a stunning 74-69 upset. The Bulldogs blew out to a 16-point halftime lead and withstood Creighton's feverish rally in the final 20 minutes.
After scoring 17 points in the first half, All-America forward Doug McDermott was slowed in the second half by the flu. For the second straight game, the nation's top 3-point shooting team had difficulty making shots from beyond the arc.
McDermott finished 0 for 6 from 3-point range against the Bulldogs, while Manigat went 0 for 3 from beyond the arc and 0 for 4 overall in failing to score for the second straight game. Forward Ethan Wragge, who had made 16 of 26 3-point shots in a four-game stretch early in conference play, went 2 for 7.
In his last three games, Wragge is 4 for 16 from long range. Creighton, which had shot 55 percent from beyond the arc in its first six Missouri Valley wins, is 13 of 41 (31.7 percent) on 3-point attempts in its two losses.
“We're not shooting it as well as we can right now, and that's hurting us,'' Wragge said. “The inside hasn't been as open for us, and teams are doing a good job of taking away what we do. We just have to find a way to do it better.''
Wragge spent most of Thursday's practice working on his shot as he and Creighton's five starters were kept out of most of the drill work in an attempt to give them some extra rest. Manigat, McDermott, Austin Chatman and Grant Gibbs each played at least 33 minutes against Drake, while starting center Gregory Echenique is recovering from a wrist injury.
“I got up a lot of shots today,'' Wragge said. “I don't have class tomorrow, so I'll get in here early and get up a lot more.''
Manigat also worked on a shot that has deserted him in back-to-back 0-for-4 shooting nights. That lack of production will leave some forgetting that in the nine previous games, the junior guard averaged 9.2 points while making almost 60 percent of his field-goal attempts.
He was 18 of 32 (56.3 percent) from 3-point range in that nine-game stretch while averaging three assists per game.
“Some of the shots I missed last night are shots that I usually make,'' Manigat said. “They just didn't go in. I think Ethan probably feels the same way. That's tough on any player, but you just have to look forward to the next challenge.
“We have to be sure that we do everything that we can to get ready for Sunday.''
In addition to the shooting woes, Creighton has lost the rebounding battle in each loss. That wasn't surprising against Wichita State — the Shockers lead the Valley in rebounding margin and finished with a 44-41 overall advantage and a 22-13 edge on the offensive boards.
Creighton had posted a 40-22 rebounding advantage when it posted a 91-61 win over Drake on Jan. 8. The Bulldogs finished Wednesday's game with a 39-31 rebounding edge, including a 22-13 advantage when they blew out to their big first-half lead.
Drake also was the more physical team in the first 20 minutes as the Bulldogs got into the Bluejays defensively. Doug McDermott was the only Bluejay able to counter that, scoring 17 of his 19 points before the flu symptoms hit at halftime.
“We have to try to be the aggressor,'' said Greg McDermott when asked how his team needs to counteract opponents that try to out-tough the Bluejays. “We had our transition game going early because we were getting stops on the defensive end.
“It's hard to get a transition game going when the other team is scoring baskets, which is what Drake started doing. We have to execute the fundamentals of the game, making sure our positioning defensively is where it needs to be and showing some fight on the backboards.''
The two straight losses have left Creighton a game behind first-place Wichita State in the Valley standings. There are 10 games remaining in the regular season, and the top two teams will meet in Omaha in the final game on March 2.
The Bluejays need to get back on track to stay in the race but McDermott said that drastic measures are not the answer.
“It comes down to we lost a couple that were one-possession games in the final seconds,'' he said. “We're certainly not going to overreact. There are things we have to do better. It's no secret we haven't shot the ball well these past two games.
“We just have to get back to doing what we do offensively, and I'm confident we can do that.''
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