LONG BEACH, Calif. — Creighton got a lot of things it needed from Tuesday night’s game against Long Beach State.
Most of all, it got a win that allowed the Bluejays to salvage their four-game trip to California. The 78-61 victory before 3,481 at the Walter Pyramid was Creighton’s second in four games on the trip and allowed the Bluejays to bring home a 6-2 record.
“We needed to end the trip on a positive note,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “This is big for team morale as we have a big week ahead of as we prepare for Nebraska.”
Wragge, making his first start since the final game of the 2009-10 season, contributed 15 points to the winning effort. Doug McDermott bounced back from scoring just seven points in Sunday’s loss to George Washington by leading Creighton with 21 points.
Will Artino and Isaiah Zierden scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, in helping the Bluejays build a 37-15 edge in bench scoring. That was one of those things that Creighton coach Greg McDermott found value in as he dug inside the final score.
The Bluejays had gotten 24 from their reserves in the loss to San Diego State and 21 in the setback against George Washington. But 31 of those points belonged to Wragge, who took Artino’s spot in the starting lineup against the 49ers.
“I thought Will was active on both ends of the floor tonight, and Isaiah gave us a nice lift in shooting the ball,” Greg McDermott said.
He also singled out contributions made by Devin Brooks and Avery Dingman.
“All in all, I was pleased with what transpired tonight,” the coach said.
Of course, it came against a struggling Long Beach State team that dropped to 1-8 with the loss. Creighton was the latest high-profile opponent for the 49ers, who had already played Arizona, Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas State (twice) and Washington.
That grind is starting to wear on the 49ers.
“This losing is getting old,” said A.J. Spencer, who led Long Beach State with 13 points. “We just have to find that second wind. When we get punched earlier, we have to come back stronger.”
Actually, it was the 49ers that landed some of the first blows Tuesday as they jumped out to a 9-3 lead after the first three minutes. Creighton, which had struggled to get any offensive rhythm in Sunday’s 60-53 loss to George Washington, had two missed shots and a turnover in its first four possessions.
“We were a little slow to start because we were really focusing on the defensive end,” Doug McDermott said. “I thought we did a great job of adjusting and knowing what we had to do. We found our shooters in transition, and that got us going. It opened up the floor.”
Dingman’s 3-point basket gave Creighton its first lead at 14-12. The Bluejays took their first double-digit lead when Jahenns Manigat buried a 3-point shot from the wing with 7:33 left in the first half.
McDermott put Creighton ahead 48-28 at the half when he made two free throws with six second left. Creighton opened the second half with an 11-4 spurt that featured two 3-point baskets by Wragge and five points from McDermott.
The Bluejays eventually built their lead to 32 points when Zierden’s 3-pointer made it 68-36 with 12:38 to play.
“We got a little sloppy with the lead there late when we were trying to run a little bit of clock,” Greg McDermott said. “But Dan Monson is a friend of mine, and we weren’t going to make this any worse than it had to be.”
Monson, the Long Beach State coach, could draw a little consolation in seeing his team refuse to fold in outscoring Creighton 25-10 after the Bluejays had built their biggest lead.
Creighton got more than half of its points on 3-point baskets as the Bluejays finished 14 of 27 (51.9 percent) from beyond the arc. They also got 20 points from the free throw line, getting to the line 25 times after shooting a combined 21 free throws in the losses to San Diego State and George Washington.
Creighton had shot a program record 76.5 percent from the line last season but came into Tuesday’s game making just 68.5 percent this season.
“It’s about time we shot them like that,” said Doug McDermott, who went 9 of 9 on free throws. “It’s a lot mental. You can shoot as many as you want in practice but it comes down to when you’re in a game, you have to step up and know you’re going to make them.
“Everyone has their own routine, and tonight we stuck to it and it worked. We have to forget what we did last year. I think now that we’re eight games in, we’re confident that we’re going to make those.”
McDermott finished 5 of 11 from the field and 2 of 3 from 3-point range. He had misfired on all five of his shots from beyond the arc against George Washington and finished 2 of 12 from the field.
Wragge made 5 of 11 3-point shots in scoring at least 15 points in three consecutive games in his career.
“We started a little slowly but once we got in a rhythm, we were all right,” Wragge said. “I thought Willy and Isaiah really came in and gave us a lift. All the guys off the bench did tonight.”
Until Tuesday, the 6-foot-7 Wragge was one of those guys. His insertion into the starting lineup did create an unusual conversation between him and the 6-8 McDermott just before the tip.
“He asked me, ‘So, are you going to jump,”’ McDermott said, laughing. “I think that was our only option. I need to get some advice on how to do those jump balls.”
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>> Video: See coach Greg McDermott after the win over Long Beach State: