The memories of playing Creighton last season are not pleasant for St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli.
“They played,” Martelli said. “We watched.”
The Bluejays administered an 80-51 beating on the Hawks. Creighton blew out to a 30-point lead before the game was 17 minutes old as St. Joseph’s absorbed a loss that turned a season upside down.
The Hawks came into the season picked to win the Atlantic 10. They finished .500 in the conference and found themselves in the NIT for the second straight season.
“We thought we were pretty good, and we got it handed to us from the jump ball,” Martelli said. “It put us on a psychological rocker that we never really recovered from.
“None of us responded well to that, but that was last year’s team and last year’s game.”
That’s one reason Martelli spent little time dredging up last year’s nightmare in preparing his team for Saturday’s 6 p.m. CST meeting with the Bluejays. Both teams bring 2-0 records into the game at St. Joseph’s cozy Hagan Arena.
Creighton’s memories of its last visit to the 4,200-seat facility are equally unpleasant. The Bluejays had won their first seven games to open the 2011-12 season, but St. Joseph’s posted an 80-71 win that wasn’t necessarily as close as the final margin.
“It’s a small little gym there and the student section is right on top of you,” CU forward Doug McDermott said. “It makes for a really tough atmosphere.”
It’s as tough as any that guard Grant Gibbs has played in, and that includes a couple of visits to the pressure cooker that is St. Mary’s gym when he was at Gonzaga.
“Things were crazy at St. Mary’s, and I’d say the two places are comparable,” Gibbs said. “They’re similar in size, but at St. Joseph’s, the fans are all around you and right on the court.
“There is hardly any room there on the baseline between you and the student section. It’s a great college basketball environment.”
It’s made more difficult by the quality of Martelli’s teams, Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. This season’s Hawks, led by senior starters Halil Kanacevic, Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts, will give the Bluejays a stern test after a pair of wins against overmatched opponents.
Like Martelli, Greg McDermott puts little stock in what happened a year ago in Omaha. The Bluejays played one of their best games of the season, the Hawks one of their worst.
“Coach Martelli will have them ready,” McDermott said. “We’ll have to play a great game if we expect to go in there and win.”
In the days since Monday’s lopsided win over UMKC, Creighton has worked on cleaning up some of the shortcomings it has exhibited in the first two games. McDermott is concerned that the emphasis on eliminating some of the physical play in the college game has cost his team some aggressiveness.
The Bluejays can’t afford to play tentatively Saturday, he said. The Hawks have a pair of difference-makers in Galloway, who has scored more than 1,400 career points, and the athletic Roberts.
“Langston Galloway is one of the top 10 off guards in the country,” McDermott said. “He’s good running off screens, he’s great in transition and he’s learned to attack more as he’s become older. I think he’s a terrific player.
“Ronald Roberts is a load inside. He’s athletic, he blocks shots, he changes the game. They’ve got a good basketball team, and if we can find a way to go in there and win, it will be a great win for us.”
St. Joseph’s squandered a similar opportunity a year ago when it came to Omaha and laid an egg.
“That’s going to be in the back of their minds, so that just adds another challenge for us,” Gibbs said.
“This is a whole different deal, going on the road and playing in that kind of environment against a really quality team. We have to get our minds changed to the task at hand, because it’s not going to be like playing at home.”