Creighton coach Greg McDermott knows the ingredients it takes to mix up a championship run at any conference tournament.
Obviously, it helps if your best players perform at a high level. It can be beneficial if a result or two in other games go your way. And it never hurts for an unheralded player to make a name for himself when the stage is the biggest and the lights are the brightest.
Creighton got such an effort last year when Grant Gibbs scored a career-high 20 points in the overtime victory over Illinois State in the Missouri Valley tournament's championship game. The Bluejays have gotten similar efforts from other players over the years in their visits to St. Louis.
“Often times, it's an unheralded guy having a great game or two that makes the difference,” McDermott said. “Grant had a big game in the final against Illinois State, and it usually comes down to someone stepping up and maybe having one of his career games on the big stage.”
Creighton begins its bid for a repeat Valley tournament championship on Friday when the top-seeded Bluejays face either Bradley or Drake in a noon quarterfinal game at the Scottrade Center.
Winning a championship will require the Bluejays to win three games in a 51-hour period. It will be a grind that will test the players both physically and mentally.
“You have to prepare yourself physically for three straight battles because everyone is playing for that chance for an automatic bid,” Gibbs said. “You know every game is going to be a full-court blitz.”
Gibbs agrees with his coach that a team sometimes has to turn to players who might have played more of a secondary role during the regular season when things get tight in the tournament.
In his case against Illinois State, Gibbs took advantage of the way the Redbirds were playing defensively to assume more of a scoring role in the championship game.
“When we had played them before, they had played me more as a passer,” he said. “I was able to find some open looks and some seams in the defense where they usually would have been playing for the pass.”
Gibbs made 8 of 13 shots, including 2 of 3 3-point attempts, in the championship game. He also had seven rebounds, five assists and no turnovers in playing 36 of the 45 minutes in the overtime victory.
The familiarity that conference teams have with one another at this point in the season, Gibbs said, sometimes lends itself for unexpected performances.
“We've all played each other twice already,” he said. “We all know each other well enough that we're going to try to take away each other's strengths. So sometimes it takes a guy doing something that isn't necessarily in the scouting report to make the difference between winning and losing a game.”
Few players have filled that role better than Jimmy Motz did for the Bluejays in 2005. Primarily a 3-point shooter, Motz arrived in St. Louis averaging around five points a game. He scored 36 points in three games, earning a spot on the all-tournament team while helping the Bluejays to the championship.
Whether Creighton can get a step-up performance from one of its reserves this year remains to be seen. What is certain is that the Bluejays have faith that anyone on the roster is capable of being a difference-maker.
“We're going to need the guys on the bench,” Creighton center Gregory Echenique said. “We did a good job of using the bench last year, and I know those guys are going to be ready this week.
“No one knows who that guy is that will step in and provide us with some big numbers, but we know we have guys that can. We're going to need everybody if we want to get this done two years in a row.”
Wragge named captain of MVC all-bench team
Creighton's Ethan Wragge picked up another honor Wednesday when the junior forward was named to the Missouri Valley's all-bench team.
Wragge, named the conference's sixth man of the year on Tuesday, was selected as the team's captain in voting done by the 10 newspaper beat writers who cover the league. Wragge averaged 7.8 points and 2.5 rebounds while seeing all of his action this season as a reserve.
Creighton guard Austin Chatman earned a spot on the league's all-improved team, also selected by the beat writers. Chatman averaged 7.7 points and 4.3 assists in his first season as a starter after averaging 2.4 points and 1.9 assists last season as a freshman reserve.
Joining Wragge on the all-bench team were D.J. Balentine of Evansville, Matt Bohannon of Northern Iowa, Nathan Scherer of Missouri State, Khristian Smith of Indiana State and Nick Wiggins of Wichita State.
Southern Illinois' Jeff Early was picked captain of the all-improved team. Other players selected were Illinois State's Johnny Hill and Bradley teammates Walt Lemon Jr. and Dyricus Simms-Edwards.
Gibbs semifinalist for Tustenugee Award
Creighton guard Grant Gibbs is one of 12 players selected to the semifinal list for the third Eddie Sutton Tustenugee Award.
Presented by Tulsa Sports Charities, the Sutton Award is presented to the player that best exhibits the traits of tenacity and unselfishness that Sutton advocated during his Hall of Fame career.
“Tustenugee” means warrior in the language of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, one of the five Native-American tribes that settled in Oklahoma.
The award will be presented at a date to be announced in Tulsa. Previous winners were Butler's Matt Howard and Baylor's Quincy Acy.