PEORIA, Ill. — Bradley had no answer Wednesday night for the change of pace that Will Artino provided Creighton's basketball team.
Artino scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Bluejays' 80-62 victory. He made 5 of 7 shots from the field, including two that were part of a decisive 19-2 second-half run that came with starting center Gregory Echenique on the bench in foul trouble.
“We had talked in the locker room at half about coming out and throwing the first blow in the second half,” Artino said. “With Greg in foul trouble, it was my job to step up and fill his place.”
The 6-foot-11 Artino was on the court throughout the spurt that turned a two-point Creighton lead into a 19-point bulge.
“Will gives us such a different look than Gregory,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Gregory is power, while Will is finesse. He's also a very gifted passer, so he makes a lot of the right decisions.
“He's long enough and he has a feel for open spots on the floor. He's also got a good sense for the ball on the offensive glass. He went in and made some plays there that resulted in some baskets for us.”
Three of Artino's rebounds were offensive boards that produced five of Creighton's 14 second-chance points. He also had an assist in the second half that led to a Grant Gibbs dunk.
“Will is just a guy that brings great energy,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “He has great length, he runs the floor very well and he catches just about everything and finishes great.
“It's great to have a guy like that that can give us a spark off the bench.”
Many helping hands
McDermott and Artino combined for 42 of the Bluejays' points. No other Creighton player scored more than seven but Greg McDermott said the contributions the Bluejays got up and down the lineup were vital.
Creighton's primary ballhandlers, Gibbs and Austin Chatman, combined for 14 assists while committing just two turnovers. Avery Dingman, who has struggled with his shot in recent weeks, made two 3-point baskets. Jahenns Manigat had seven points and turned in a solid effort as the primary defender against Bradley's Dyricus Simms-Edwards.
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Simms-Edwards scored nine points — five below his average — while getting just eight shots.
“I thought Austin played great in the second half, and Grant's numbers were outstanding,” Greg McDermott said. “Although Jahenns didn't score a lot (seven points), I thought he did a good job on Dyricus. We were fearful of him getting going because once he does, he's hard to stop.
“Our message to Jahenns was to not let him get started, and I thought he did a good job of doing that.”
Title showdown all set
The Bluejays came into the game knowing the stakes were high as a loss could have knocked them out of the chase for the Missouri Valley championship.
By winning, Creighton will play for the outright title on Saturday against Wichita State. Evansville upset the Shockers to leave Creighton and Wichita State tied with 12-5 league records.
“Everybody was ready tonight,” Artino said. “We just felt like we were ready to break out of our slump. Nobody was pressing or trying to do too much. Everyone just got focused and that showed.”
Greg McDermott had talked with his players after last Saturday's BracketBusters loss at St. Mary's about how the two days of practice leading up to Wednesday's game were the most important of the season.
“I felt as good after Monday's practice as I have in a month but I was back to a sleepless night last night because we weren't as good on Tuesday,” he said. “But our guys fully understood what was at stake.
“If we wanted to have an opportunity to play for a championship we had to find a way to win. I was proud of the way we gutted it out through some turnovers in the first half. When Bradley uses its defense to create offense, that's when it is at its best. We were still able to have a lead in spite of turning it over 12 times.”
Seeding still uncertain
The game between Wichita State and Creighton will decide the top two seeds for next week's Valley tournament in St. Louis. The No. 1 spot goes to Saturday's winner, while the loser will be the No. 2 seed.
The rest of the seeds are a bit more uncertain. Southern Illinois has locked up the 10th seed but Saturday's outcomes could have a dramatic impact on the remainder of where the other seven teams will start Arch Madness.
Bits and pieces
>> For just the third time in the league's 105-year history, the Valley champion will have five losses. Evansville won the title in 1999 with five losses, while Drake, Louisville and Saint Louis all had five losses when they shared the title in 1971.
>> Doug McDermott passed Evansville's Marcus Wilson to move into 13th on the Valley's all-time scoring chart with 2,065 points.
>> Echenique surpassed 1,300 career points (including his points at Rutgers) with a dunk early in the second half.
>> Creighton finished Valley road play with a 5-4 record. The five wins are tied for the most in the league this season.
>> Creighton completed its second straight sweep of road games at Bradley, Southern Illinois and Illinois State. That's something the Bluejays had not accomplished in 29 seasons prior to last season.
— Steven Pivovar