ST. LOUIS — Creighton went from terrible in Terre Haute to spectacular in St. Louis.
The result was that Saturday's third meeting of the season against Indiana State was over before halftime as the top-seeded Bluejays rolled into the championship game of the Missouri Valley tournament with a 64-43 victory.
When the teams met a month ago on Indiana State's home court, the Sycamores handed Creighton its worst loss of the season in a 76-57 victory. The Bluejays remembered that game. Oh, how they remembered.
“That was the most embarrassing game we played in all season,” Creighton guard Austin Chatman said. “We had to get back at them. As a competitor, you love to have a chance like that.”
Creighton (26-7) was so ruthlessly efficient in the first 14 minutes of the semifinal game that it made the final 26 a mere formality. The Bluejays led 34-9 when Doug McDermott made his fifth 3-point shot of the half 6:09 before the break.
At that point, Creighton had scored on 14 of its first 22 possessions. The Bluejays kept the Sycamores from scoring on 10 of theirs during an 18-0 run that sucked any drama out of the game. Not that any of Creighton's 6,000 or so fans at the Scottrade Center cared much about that.
The party started early, and the Blue throng hopes to repeat it Sunday after the championship meeting with second-seeded Wichita State. The Shockers earned their spot in the final with a 66-51 win over Illinois State in Saturday's second game.
The Bluejays split a pair of games against Wichita State this season, losing by three points in a mid-January game in Wichita before posting a 91-79 win in the regular-season finale that secured a championship.
A win Sunday would give Creighton its second straight tournament title and add a 12th to its already record total.
“It's great to make it back,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “We're going to have to prepare tonight and then try to come out with that same intensity and attack mentality that we had today.”
The Bluejays jumped off to a 14-2 lead against Indiana State. The Sycamores (18-14) managed to get back to within 16-9 before Creighton unleashed the back-breaking 18-0 run that saw six players contribute points.
“They were hitting on all cylinders tonight,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “We didn't offer too much resistance.”
In the Feb. 6 win at home, Indiana State made almost half its shots and won the rebounding battle. The Sycamores got to the free-throw line and controlled the tempo. They took care of the basketball and got balance in their scoring.
Saturday, Indiana State made just 26.5 percent of its shots and Creighton finished with a one rebound advantage. Sixteen of the Sycamores' points came from the line, but the Bluejays limited point guard Jake Odum to three free-throw attempts.
After holding Creighton to 41.7 percent shooting a month ago, the Sycamores allowed the Bluejays to make 61.5 percent of their field-goal attempts in the first half and 53.5 percent for the game.
“They were able to get the ball wherever they wanted to get it compared to the other time we played them,” Indiana State forward Manny Arop said. “They hit shots and I don't think we disrupted their offense.”
Arop led Indiana State with 13 points, but no other Sycamore scored more than eight. McDermott, who missed just two of his 10 shots from the field, finished with 25 points for Creighton. Gregory Echenique added 10 points, the Bluejays got scoring contributions from seven other players.
“We were cooking,” McDermott said in describing Creighton's first-half blitz.
Creighton overwhelmed Indiana State with precision ball movement that produced open shot after open shot. The Bluejays had flashed that same kind of efficiency early in the season, but often got bogged down during the grind of a long conference season.
They rediscovered it on a magical Saturday.
“We've had halves where we've played really well,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Given the stage that we were on today, I would say that was our best half of basketball.”
On both ends of the court. Creighton's game plan was to clog up the driving lanes and force Indiana State, which isn't a great shooting team, to try to beat the Bluejays from outside. It worked perfectly as Creighton held the Sycamores without a field goal for more than nine minutes in the first half.
“Guys were just mentally focused and in tune with what we had to do,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “It was all five guys on the floor. When one guy made a mistake defensively, other guys covered. When we didn't make mistakes, we were really good.”
In turn, the defensive dominance fed Creighton's offensive surge. The Bluejays had their transition game clicking at a high level. When Creighton had to attack in the halfcourt, the Sycamores were slow in coming off screens.
“I thought we had a deer-in-the-headlights look from the start,” Lansing said. “Doug is awfully talented, and they were slipping him off ball screens a lot. We were almost running into each other.
“One guy was trying to switch and the other guy wasn't. A lot of it was on us for a lack of communication.”
McDermott made all five of his 3-point attempts in the first half, and four teammates picked up assists on those shots. At halftime, every starter had at least one assist.
“We're just naturally an unselfish team and we like to give up a good shot for a great shot,” Manigat said. “Especially in the first half, we were able to drive in, kick it out and get our inside-out game going.
“It was very good to see us go back to our old habits.”
Continue that Sunday, and the Bluejays could find themselves headed back to the NCAA tournament with an automatic bid.
“We're excited to be back in the championship game, but we're not satisfied,” Doug McDermott said. “We want to win it.”
Talking before Wichita State won, McDermott reminded everyone that both of the other semifinalists had beaten Creighton once during the regular season.
“We have some payback there,” he added.
Indiana State found out Saturday just now humbling it is to be the recipient of that.
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