ST. LOUIS — Staying prepared even when his name wasn't being called early in the season is paying off now for Will Artino.
He continued his strong play during the stretch run Friday with a career-high 14 points and six rebounds in the Bluejays' 65-53 victory against Drake in the Valley tournament quarterfinals.
The 6-foot-11 Artino has scored 123 points this season for Creighton, but 61 of those have come since Feb. 1. He has scored 10 points or more in four of his last nine games after reaching double digits once in the Bluejays' first 23 games.
“I give him a lot of credit because there were two or three conference games that he did not play,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It's hard to stay focused and motivated when you're in that position, where you don't know what to expect.
“He's just played so well when we put him in there that we had to try to find minutes for him.”
Artino played 14 minutes against the Bulldogs, the fourth time in five games that he has seen more than 10 minutes.
“Whenever Coach calls your name, you've got to provide a spark,” Artino said. “You've got to pick up where the starter has left off. That's what I've really been trying to do, stay more in focus and more in tune to the game.
“I just try to be ready and bring energy, rebound and run every time, to do whatever he asks me to do.”
Artino scored seven of his points against Drake in the first half, providing a key spark as starting center Gregory Echenique struggled to get going. When Echenique's play picked up in the second half, Artino provided the perfect complement of finesse to the senior's power game.
“He's got a hard job coming off the bench, but he's doing it well,” Echenique said. “It takes a lot of mental toughness while you're waiting for your shot, when you're not playing as much as you want to play.
“There's always people telling you stuff, you start thinking stuff that you can take the wrong way. But he's handled it the right way, and I believe in him. We all do.”
Rebounding plays critical role
Drake coach Mark Phelps admitted after the game that he would have been encouraged about his team's chances to win had he known some of Creighton's final numbers.
The Bluejays' 65 points were 11 fewer than they had averaged in their first 31 games. Creighton made 4 of 16 shots from 3-point range, with Doug McDermott's teammates going 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. The Bluejays committed 17 turnovers that allowed Drake to finish with a 12-7 edge in points off turnovers.
“I thought our defense was really good,” Phelps said. “If you would have told me we would hold Creighton to 65 points coming into the game, I would have thought we would have had a great chance to win the game.”
One thing the Bulldogs did not do is rebound. Creighton finished with a 44-26 edge, almost duplicating the edge it had in an early January win against Drake. When the Bulldogs pulled off an upset two weeks later, they outrebounded the Bluejays 39-31.
“I thought rebounding would be critical,” McDermott said.
Portman enters Hall of Fame
One of the last players Doug McDermott passed on his way to Creighton's career scoring record was in attendance to watch the junior establish a new mark Friday.
Bob Portman's 1,876 from 1966 to 1969 had been the record for points in three seasons, as he played at a time when freshmen were not eligible. Portman had been fourth on the career chart until McDermott passed him a couple weeks ago.
“He's a great player,” said Portman, who Friday was one of five people inducted into the Valley's Hall of Fame. “I know that there are a few players in this country who if they just watched Doug McDermott they would learn so much.
“He plays hard, he can shoot the ball, he creates a lot of his own situations and he doesn't get rattled. He's confident and calm and a hard worker.”
Creighton played as an independent when Portman was a Bluejay. He was inducted in the Institutional Great category, which recognizes coaches, athletes and administrators who represented a current league school when it wasn't a Valley member.
Portman joins Bob Gibson, Bob Harstad, Kyle Korver and Paul Silas as Creighton basketball players in the Hall. Portman holds the school record for career scoring average (24.68). His 51-point game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1967 is still the school record for points in a game.
He earned All-America honors as a senior in 1969 and went on to play four seasons in the NBA. Now retired and living near Chapel Hill, N.C., Portman said he still treasures his Creighton experience and playing for coach Red McManus.
“Red told me when he was recruiting me that he'd go anywhere to play anybody,” Portman said. “And we did. Red had so much confidence in me that I always had the green light (to shoot). Even when I had a shaky game, he was always telling me to keep shooting. Red was a tremendous competitor, and we would play the best. I had wonderful teammates, and we played some really great teams. It was fun, and it turned out to be truly what Red told me it was going to be.”
Big crowd for Bluejays
Creighton's players knew they were going to have tremendous support in St. Louis, as the school had sold more than 4,000 all-session tickets.
That total did not include tickets purchased from other sources. That swelled the total turnout for Friday's game to at least 6,000.
“Seeing six or seven thousand people here is really special,” Doug McDermott said. “It shows us how much they care about us, and we care about them, too. We have a tremendous fan base.”
Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said it was just like playing another home game.
“That was unbelievable,” he said. “When you first come out and see that, it's crazy.”
Bits and pieces
The “one more year” chant is here to stay. Creighton fans directed that at McDermott near the end of last Saturday's final home game to show him that they want him to return next season for his senior year. The chant broke out again near the end of Friday's game. McDermott and his father have said they will wait until after the season before considering the options of leaving early for the NBA or coming back for “one more year.” ... Josh Jones will be featured in a documentary by Stream Light Productions. The film, titled “The Josh Jones Story,” will premiere Tuesday at Marcus Midtown Theater. Showtimes are at 4 p.m., 6:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Jones was an integral part of the Bluejays' team until a heart condition forced him to quit basketball. Tickets must be purchased and picked up in advance by calling 402-916-4717 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets must be picked up at the Stream Light Productions office, located at 1065 N. 115th St., Suite 151.
— Steven Pivovar