Creighton's next two basketball games are against teams with an average RPI of 221.
Time for the Bluejays to get well, to shake what ails them, right? Maybe they could afford to think that way if their last game with get-well potential hadn't turned out the way it did.
Drake, a team Creighton beat by 30 points in the teams' first meeting, stunned the Bluejays for a 74-69 win last Wednesday. That left Creighton saddled with the two-game losing streak it takes into Sunday's 7 p.m. game against Southern Illinois at SIU Arena in Carbondale.
The loss hasn't shaken the Bluejays' confidence, but it has left them cautious in assessing the task at hand.
“We just need to go into games thinking 'We need to play good basketball to get things back on track,'” forward Doug McDermott said. “We know Southern Illinois is very capable of giving us a good fight.
“We just have to attack it like any other game, get our focus back and get our swagger back.”
After a 17-1 start — with 16 of the wins coming by 10 points or more — Creighton absorbed back-to-back losses to Wichita State and Drake. The first defeat came from a team that has demonstrated it is capable of challenging for the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title that the Bluejays also covet.
The loss to Drake was a gut punch. The Bulldogs had lost five of seven conference games, two by 30 points. They brought an 8-10 record and RPI of 166 into the game in Des Moines. They left with an upset that had their fans storming the court.
Like McDermott, Creighton guard Grant Gibbs dismissed any notion that the Bluejays can regard Sunday's game as a time to get well.
“Teams are going to play well against us, and it's going to be one of their bigger games of the year,” Gibbs said. “We have to fight the mindset that this is going to be any different than the rest of our games.
“Throw away the records and numbers and all that. We just need to get back to doing what we do.”
The Bluejays can point to numerous reasons why the success they enjoyed most of the season eluded them the past two games: defensive breakdowns, rebounding problems and missed shots head the list.
Gibbs, McDermott and their teammates are confident they can fix the problems and get back to being a team that overwhelms opponents with its offensive efficiency. Creighton, which started the week leading the country in 3-pointers and percentage, has shown the ability to pile up points quickly.
That concerns Salukis coach Barry Hinson.
“They are so good at pushing the ball and playing at a fast pace,” Hinson said. “And there's a chance they come in here a little motivated after getting beat two in a row.”
Hinson, the former Missouri State coach in his first season at Southern Illinois, knows his team does not match up well with the Bluejays. The Salukis have one player taller than 6-foot-5 in their rotation, and 6-9 Davante Drinkard is a reserve who plays 11.6 minutes a game and averages 2.1 points.
Southern Illinois will also be without its leading rebounder and second-leading scorer Sunday. The Valley suspended 6-1 Jeff Early for one game after he was ejected from last Wednesday's loss at Northern Iowa.
Early was called for a flagrant 2 foul after elbowing Jake Koch as the two came down the floor. The foul carries an automatic ejection from the game, and the conference tacked on the additional penalty.
Hinson called the Valley's action justified.
“We don't condone that kind of action in any way, shape or form,” he said. “Jeff knows. We've never condoned this type of attitude, and this type of play will not be tolerated.
“After looking at the video, had the Valley not made that decision, we most likely would have made the decision ourselves because this had malicious intent written all over it.”
Josh Swan, a 6-2 sophomore, will take Early's place in the starting lineup.
Despite a 1-7 conference record and an 8-11 overall mark, the Salukis have shown enough fight to keep Hinson from getting discouraged in the process of rebuilding the program. The league win came against third-place Indiana State, and they held a nine-point halftime lead at Wichita State before losing 82-76.
Southern Illinois is coming off a 58-45 loss to Northern Iowa in which the Salukis tried to slow the pace of the game. Expect more of the same Sunday, Hinson said.
“I don't think there's any question it's in our best interest,” he said. “Whether it works or not, I don't know. But I do know this: We can't play an up-and-down game with Creighton. If we do, it could be a long day for the Salukis.”
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