Creighton’s greatest challenge in Friday’s exhibition game against Northern State might have been coming up with a seating chart.
As expected, the Bluejays had little difficulty in rolling to an 89-61 win over the Division II Wolves in front of a paid crowd of 16,299 at CenturyLink Center.
But with a roster of 20 players and seemingly as many coaches and support personnel, the Creighton bench seemed to stretch halfway into the tunnel that leads back to the locker room. It’s customary that when a Bluejay comes out of the game, he shakes hands with every person on the bench before finding a seat.
“I think we’re going to have to change that,” said sixth-year senior guard Grant Gibbs. “I don’t know how many steps I have left. I can’t waste any.
“I also found myself getting tight instead of loosening up in the (pregame) layup line because you had to wait in line so long before shooting a layup.”
Coach Greg McDermott found a way to play all 20 on the roster, with 14 contributing at least a point to the win in the Bluejays’ final tune-up before next Friday’s season opener against Alcorn State.
Naturally, McDermott came away from the exhibition with a check list of things to work on. He wasn’t very happy with his team’s first-half defensive effort: The Wolves scored 35 points, 24 on 3-point shots.
“Northern State made some deep shots in the first half, but it was the guys we were worried about that were shooting the basketball,” McDermott said. “We’re a team that has to take away the other team’s strengths defensively if we’re going to be successful. I thought we did a better job of getting to them in the second half.”
The Bluejays also need some work on ball security — they had 13 turnovers, some of which McDermott attributed to first-game jitters — and free-throw shooting. Creighton, coming off a school-record 75.9 percent season of free-throw accuracy, made just 20 of 33 (60.6 percent) against Northern State.
“There were some good things tonight,” McDermott said, “but certainly some things we need to work on.”
On the positive side, Creighton did shoot 62.5 percent from the field, made 9 of 20 3-point baskets, finished with a 41-28 rebounding advantage and had 23 assists on its 30 baskets.
The Bluejays also held Northern State to 33.3 percent shooting, including 24.1 percent in the final 20 minutes. The Wolves made just 1 of 8 shots from beyond the arc in the second half. Skye Warwick scored all nine of his points in the first half on three long-range bombs but went scoreless in the second half.
“I think we did a really good job of adjusting,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “We regrouped at half and did the little things on defense. We did a much better job there.”
McDermott led Creighton with 26 points in 24 minutes. Ethan Wragge and Toby Hegner each added nine points, while Will Artino had eight points to go along with his team-high eight rebounds. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Zierden also scored eight points.
“It felt good to get out there and play in a live game,” Zierden said. “I talked to my dad before the game, and he told me just to go out there and do my best. I think I did that tonight.”
Creighton also got 17 assists from junior-college transfer Devin Brooks (seven), Gibbs (six) and Austin Chatman (four). Several of Brooks’ assists were of the spectacular nature, including a long, left-handed, behind-the-back pass to set up a 3-point basket by Doug McDermott.
“When Devin’s in the game, something is going to happen,” said Greg McDermott, stopping short of adding that sometimes it’s not always going to be positive. “I’m not sure we’ll see that 30-foot, left-handed, behind-the-back pass again, but it worked tonight.”
Brooks also made all three of his shots from the field, with one coming on a nifty drive down the lane and another on a layup after he worked inside for an offensive rebound.
“I think I played decent,” Brooks said. “My confidence is building up slowly but I played pretty well. The guys playing around me kept encouraging me, and I appreciate my teammates.”
Told of his coach’s comment about his behind-the-back pass, Brooks smiled and said, “I’ve been working on that one in practice. I did it one time in practice and the ball went all the way into the stands. I took a risk today, Doug caught it and made a 3. I may try to do that more often.”
Hegner finished off the scoring with a pair of baskets that followed a crowd-pleasing dunk by sophomore Mo Oginni, who worked free and threw down a thunderous one-hander with 1:44 remaining. That brought his teammates off the bench to celebrate, and even Coach McDermott had a broad smile on his face.
“I told Mo that we needed a dunk from him tonight,” Artino said. “He did his part. He comes out every day and works hard against us. It’s good that he gets to have his moment like that. Everyone was excited for him.”
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Video: Highlights from the game