By taking care of business against a couple of overmatched opponents, Creighton puts its destiny back in its own hands.
The No. 21 Bluejays followed up Sunday's win over Southern Illinois with Wednesday's 91-77 victory over Missouri State. The victories over the two teams with plus-200 RPIs, coupled with Wichita State's loss on Tuesday, left Creighton tied with the Shockers for the Missouri Valley lead heading into February.
Creighton had dropped a game behind Wichita State after losing to the Shockers on Jan. 19 and then getting upset at Drake four nights later.
“We lost one we didn't think we should have at Drake,'' Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Drake outplayed us that night, and you hope that the people you're fighting with for a championship, it happens to them.
“Indiana State lost at Southern, and they probably didn't anticipate that. Wichita loses at home to Indiana State, and I'm sure they weren't counting on that. At the end of the day, you have to be the team that loses the fewest of those. You have to win the games you're supposed to win.''
Wednesday's game definitely fell into that category. The Bears came into the game with four Valley wins but were 6-15 overall. Missouri State starts four freshmen and faced Creighton without its best defensive player: Keith Pickens' knee was too sore to allow him to play.
Creighton never trailed after the first minute of the game, kept Missouri State from slowing the pace and expanded a 13-point halftime lead to 24 with eight minutes to play.
The Bears managed to cut 10 points off that deficit in the closing minutes but still wound up leaving the CenturyLink Center 4-6 in the league. The win, before 16,811 who saw Creighton play at home for the first time since Jan. 15, improved the Bluejays to 19-3 and 8-2.
McDermott called the rest of his team's conference schedule challenging. The Bluejays have road games at Indiana State, Bradley, Northern Iowa and Evansville. Creighton lost games at the latter two sites last season.
The Bluejays' remaining home games are against Bradlley, Illinois State and Southern Illinois before they finish the regular season with a March 2 Senior Day game against Wichita State.
“It just feels good to be back to where we can control our own destiny,'' Creighton's coach said. “If we take them one at a time and knock them off, we can win a championship.
“Up until last night, we were going to need a little help.''
The Bluejays were definitely aware of what happened Tuesday in Wichita, but their focus Wednesday night was squarely on the Bears.
“We can't get complacent like we did earlier this year,'' Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “Tonight, I just wanted to beat Missouri State because I hadn't beaten them at home yet. It felt good to get that off my back, and now we have to get focused for Bradley and keep taking them one game at a time.''
McDermott scored 39 points on Jan. 11, including 28 in the second half, when Creighton posted a 22-point win over Missouri State. As good as he was in that game, McDermott might have been better in an all-around sense in Wednesday's win.
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He scored 29 points, making 9 of 16 shots from the field, including 5 of 7 3-pointers. He grabbed 10 rebounds in notching his fifth double-double of the season and had four assists, including a nifty over-the-shoulder dish to a driving Grant Gibbs that provided the season ticket-holders in the crowd with free pizza.
“Creighton is a team that if you make any mistakes, they make you pay,'' Missouri State coach Paul Lusk said. “That's certainly the case with Doug. He is so efficient.''
McDermott wasn't the only Bluejay to fit that description Wednesday. Sophomore Austin Chatman recorded his first double-double, scoring 14 points and handing out 10 assists. Sharpshooting Ethan Wragge missed just one of his six 3-point shots in a 15-point night, while Gibbs added 10 points.
The Bluejays shot 55.6 percent from the field and made 15 3-point shots, one off their season high, in a 53.6-percent effort from beyond the arc. Creighton had assists on 24 of its 30 baskets and finished with a 13-rebound advantage on the smaller Bears.
“They're a difficult team for us to match up with,'' Lusk said. “They just keep coming at you and pushing it in transition. We tried different things, different schemes to get the ball out of McDermott's hands.
“But they get you in rotations and they make you pay. And it's hard for us to control tempo against anyone because we're so perimeter-oriented.''
Twenty of Missouri State's 53 shots came from beyond the arc. The Bears made 11 (55 percent), and finished the game shooting 54.7 percent — second-highest by a Creighton opponent this season.
Dorrian Williams made four of the Bears' 3-point baskets to finish with 14 points, while Gavin Thurman matched his career high by scoring 21 points to lead the Bears. Creighton did allow just nine points by Anthony Downing, Missouri State's only senior and its scoring leader with a 14.7 average.
Downing made just 2 of 9 shots, and Greg McDermott credited Jahenns Manigat and Avery Dingman for being Downing's chief antagonists.
“They did a good job of keeping him in check,'' McDermott said. “I wouldn't have thought they could score 77 points if we kept him in check.
“Some of their other guys stepped up and made shots. I tip my hat to them. They've come a long way from early in the conference season. We haven't had many teams shoot that percentage against us all year.''
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>> Video: Highlights from Creighton's 91-77 win over Missouri State:
>> Video: Doug McDermott speaks after the win over the Bears:
>> Video: Creighton coach Greg McDermott's postgame press conference: