Ask Creighton coach Greg McDermott about the challenge facing his basketball team in the final month of the regular season and you will get a fairly predictable answer.
“My thoughts are about the upcoming game and not the month,” McDermott said. “I could care less about who is after Indiana State.”
The Sycamores are next up for the No. 21 Bluejays, who travel to Terre Haute for a Wednesday night game that figures to be unlike many of Creighton’s recent visits to the Hulman Center.
There have been times where the atmosphere at the Sycamores’ home arena has resembled a church rather that a Division I basketball arena. The all-timer might have been a mid-2000s visit for a Sunday afternoon game that was played at the same time the Indianapolis Colts were taking on Pittsburgh in an NFL playoff game an hour’s drive up the interstate.
Indiana State announced the crowd at around 3,000 but it might have been stretching it if half that number were there. And many came with radios to keep up with the football game.
It probably won’t be as serene Wednesday. Indiana State officials are promoting the game hard, hoping to pack the arena for a meeting of the teams that are first and third in the Missouri Valley Conference standings.
“I’m sure it will be a big crowd, as well as they’re playing,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “We’re going to have to be ready to go.”
The Sycamores lost a chance to add to the pregame hoopla when they dropped an overtime game Saturday night at Drake. Had Indiana State won, the Sycamores would have moved into a second-place tie with Wichita State, a game behind the Bluejays.
As it stands, Indiana State is 7-4 in the Valley and two games behind 9-2 Creighton. The Sycamores are 14-8 overall but own a victory against Atlantic Coast Conference leader Miami, as well as résumé-boosting wins over Mississippi and Wichita State.
“Indiana State is a very good basketball team, and they played well when they were here,” McDermott said. “We all know how hard it is to go into Wichita and win, and they not only won but they won pretty handily.
“They don’t make mistakes and they don’t beat themselves. They are very sound defensively, and Greg has done a good job of putting that team together with a lot of new faces. They’ve played one of the better schedules in the league, and they’ve played well.”
Indiana State coach Greg Lansing had to replace four starters off a team that won 18 games last season. The one returner was Jake Odum, a three-year starter at point guard who is one of the Valley’s best players. Odum is 10th in the league in scoring, third in assists and tied for seventh in steals.
“When they have the ball, Jake Odum spends a good deal of the game with it in his hands,” McDermott said. “When you have a guy that can make decisions like he can, you’re asking for it. We have to do a good job controlling him.”
The Bluejays did a fairly good job of neutralizing Odum when the teams met Jan. 5 in Omaha. He scored 13 points in the 79-66 loss but Creighton limited him to one assist. Odum also had two turnovers and missed 8 of his 12 shots.
“He does a lot of things for his team, and they don’t always come in the same game,” Bluejay guard Jahenns Manigat said. “One game he’ll lead them in scoring. The next, he’ll dish out 12 assists. The next time he’ll get them eight or 10 rebounds.
“He’s a tough guy to match up against, and he does so much for his team. He gets them going and our job Wednesday is to stop him primarily. Hopefully, if we can keep him in check, that could keep everyone else in check, too.”
Creighton takes a 20-3 record into Wednesday’s game, one of five games on the road it must play in the final 24 days of the regular season. The Bluejays also face Valley road tests Feb. 13 at Northern Iowa, Feb. 16 at Evansville and Feb. 27 at Bradley.
Creighton will learn Monday where it will play its Feb. 22 or 23 BracketBusters game. The Bluejays must play on the road, and are most likely facing a trip to either Belmont or St. Mary’s. ESPN’s announcement of the television games for this season’s series will be made at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
Creighton has three home games remaining: Saturday against Illinois State, Feb. 19 against Southern Illinois and March 2 against Wichita State.
“At this point, we know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Gibbs said. “We have to realize what we’re playing for and how important this stretch run is. We can’t afford any setbacks in preparation or concentration.
“That’s going to fall on us as players. The coaches are going to put good plans together but as players, we have to grasp this opportunity. We have to play a little better on the road than we did recently.”
Creighton had won its first six games away from Omaha this season but ran into difficulty when it had to play three straight road games last month. The Bluejays dropped a hard-fought 67-64 decision at Wichita State and were upset 74-69 at Drake four days later. They closed the three-game stretch with an 81-51 spanking of Southern Illinois.
Creighton has lost in four of its past six visits to Terre Haute against Indiana State teams that might not have been as good as the one it will face Wednesday.
“Coach Lansing is doing a great job with those guys,” Gibbs said. “They’re competing and playing really well defensively. They’re playing as well as anyone in the league right now.”
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