Creighton faced a couple of sticky questions in the wake of Wednesday's loss at Indiana State.
Was the Bluejays' subpar play an isolated incident, much like it was in the first half of the Jan. 23 game with Drake that led to a five-point loss? Or were the offensive and defensive breakdowns Creighton suffered against the Sycamores signs of much bigger problems?
Creighton coach Greg McDermott and his players tend to believe it's the former, that the 76-57 humbling in Terre Haute was one of those slipups that most teams experience over the course of a long season.
“I don't know if we've played particularly well over the last five or six games,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “It's really been about our intensity. It's hard when you're taking everybody's best shot.
“We want it that way but we have to understand that when it is that way, we have to be fully engaged and prepared.”
The Bluejays were neither Wednesday against an Indiana State team that, it could be argued, was playing for its season. A loss to the Bluejays would have ended any chance the Sycamores had of staying in the Missouri Valley title race while also doing serious damage to their postseason hopes.
Playing with the passion desperate teams sometimes do, Indiana State put together a performance that left coach Greg Lansing gushing.
“I'd like to frame that one,” Lansing said. “I don't know if we can play any better. We played awfully well at both ends of the floor, especially defensively. They didn't play well, but we had a lot to do with it.”
Indiana State held Creighton to its season-low point total — the Bluejays' previous low was 64. It limited Doug McDermott to eight points, 16 below his season average and his lowest total in a Valley game.
Creighton came into the game leading the nation in field-goal percentage (.520) and 3-point percentage (.449). The Bluejays shot 41.7 percent from the field and 27.8 percent from beyond the arc.
“Our offensive efficiency was a season low, and it wasn't even close,” Greg McDermott said.
Creighton scored 0.89 points per possession against the Sycamores. The Bluejays came into the game leading the nation in points per possession (1.184).
“We haven't been under a point a possession all year,” McDermott said.
Creighton contributed to a lot of its problems. The Bluejays had issues with their offensive spacing, their ball movement and, at times, their decision- making. That led to ill-timed shots and passes against a team that was prepared to feast on such mistakes.
“We never got the ball moving as we normally do, and a lot of credit has to go to them,” McDermott said. “They disrupted a lot of things that we normally like to do. We were never able to get into our transition game. It was really non-existent.”
Indiana State also did an excellent job of exploiting some of Creighton's inherent defensive liabilities. The Bluejays have improved at that end of the court this season but still have difficulty stopping players who are capable of forcing the action off the dribble.
Few in the Valley are as good at doing that as Jake Odum, and the Indiana State junior was at his best against the Bluejays. Odum scored 22 points and handed out five assists. His freestyling ways also opened up other facets of the attack, which overcame some of its own early struggles to operate at high efficiency over the final 27 minutes.
“Defensively, we weren't that bad for the first 13 or 14 minutes,” McDermott said. “Normally, if we hold a team to 15 points in the first 13 minutes, we're in pretty good shape.”
But Creighton had no answers when things started to snowball on the Bluejays, much like they didn't when Drake went on a decisive spurt near the end of the first half of that Jan. 23 game in Des Moines.
The Bluejays bounced back from that loss with three straight wins that vaulted them to the top of the Valley standings. Even after Wednesday's loss, they remain there with a one-game lead over Indiana State and Wichita State with six to play.
The 19-point margin of defeat against the Sycamores was the second-worst in McDermott's three seasons at Creighton, trailing just the 21-point home loss to Wichita State last season.
The Bluejays didn't lose again after that loss until North Carolina ended their season in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“We're a better team than we showed last night,” Creighton center Gregory Echenique said after Thursday's practice. “It came down to we were not ready to play. It's that simple.
“When we do come ready, we've shown that we can be a pretty good team. We just have to come out the next time with urgency.”
What the Bluejays can't afford to do, McDermott said, is panic. He'll leave it to others to string together what happened at Drake and at Indiana State to draw sweeping conclusions about the direction the Bluejays are headed.
His only focus is on getting his team ready for Saturday's game against Illinois State.
“It's a long season,” he said. “Bill Self is feeling the same way I'm feeling today.”
Texas Christian, which had not won a Big 12 game in its first season in the league, upset Self's fifth-ranked Kansas team on Wednesday. The Jayhawks scored 13 points in the first half against a team many observers felt was headed for a 0-18 conference record.
“We not only lost to a good basketball team, but a good basketball team that played really well on a night that we didn't,” McDermott said. “That hasn't happened much to us in the last couple of years.”
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