NEW YORK — Creighton coach Greg McDermott's concern meter went off Sunday night after his team scored on eight of its first nine possessions against St. John's.
The quick offensive start allowed the Bluejays to take a seven-point lead in a game they eventually lost 70-65. While McDermott liked what he was seeing on the offensive end, he was apprehensive about what he was watching on the other end of the court.
“Things almost came too easy for us early, if that's possible,” McDermott said. “I didn't feel like we were engaged defensively as we needed to be on the road against a good St. John's team.”
The Red Storm converted seven of their first 11 possessions into points to stay close. That paid dividends when St. John's started to ratchet up its defensive effort to start making things more difficult on the 12th-ranked Bluejays.
St. John's scored 40 points in the opening half while shooting 48.5 percent from the field.
“The first five to eight minutes kind of looked like open gym,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “That's on us, not doing what we're supposed to do. Offensively, we were but we fell into letting them have whatever they wanted defensively.”
Teammate Doug McDermott agreed.
“We did a great job of getting some easy looks,” he said. “We were great on the offensive end but we weren't carrying that over at all. We have to be able to play on both ends of the floor.
“We can't let it get into our heads that we're just going to outscore guys. We have to dig in on the defensive end and let the scoring take care of itself.”
Gibbs says knee is OK
Playing in his second game after missing a month with a knee injury, Gibbs matched his season high with 12 points while grabbing a career-high 11 rebounds. He also had six assists and five turnovers.
Gibbs returned to the starting lineup after seeing action in a reserve role in Friday's win over DePaul. He played 35 minutes — second-most to McDermott's 37 — and said his knee felt fine.
“The knee doesn't hurt but I just don't have that trust in it,” Gibbs said. “That's not an excuse. I just need to keep doing what I do.
“I'm killing us on defense. I'm not exploding out of the gaps and making plays, not like it ever was my expertise. But I'm hurting us there, and I have to get back to getting it stronger and be more balanced.”
Brooks returns to court, home
Creighton guard Devin Brooks played 11 minutes after being questionable coming into the game. The junior guard had missed the DePaul game with a high fever that also cost him a couple of days of practice.
Brooks, who grew up in Harlem, did not participate in the morning shootaround except to take a few shots at the end of the hourlong session. He admitted he took the court thinking his time would be limited.
“I never doubted I'd play but I thought it might be more like a minute or so,” Brooks said.
Brooks played eight minutes in the first half, partly because starting point guard Austin Chatman got into foul trouble in the last seven minutes. Brooks finished the game with six points on 3 of 9 shooting. He also had four of Creighton's 11 missed free throws.
“Getting sick came at a bad time,” Brooks said. “I really felt like I could have contributed more on the floor today but being sick the past couple of days affected my minutes and everything else.”
Brooks did get a chance to play in front of “a ton” of family and friends. He talked with a reporter after the game holding a poster he had been given.
“I had a lot of people I never expected to see show up,” Brooks said. “I was really excited about that.”
St. John's limits Wragge
As it did in the Jan. 28 game in Omaha, St. John's negated the outside shooting threat of Ethan Wragge.
The forward got four shots Sunday, making one of his 3-pointers. The Red Storm had limited him to three shots and one 3-pointer in the 63-60 loss at the CenturyLink Center.
Wragge came into the game ranked second nationally in 3-point percentage and fifth in 3-point field goals per game.
“It really impacts us a bunch because he's such a great shooter,” said Doug McDermott, referring to St. John's ability to take Wragge out of the game. “They did another great job of taking him completely out of the game.
“He can make them from anywhere on the floor but St. John's was disciplined and knew wherever he was at on the court. If teams are going to do that, we have to have other guys step up and make big shots.”
Doug eyes wins, not awards
McDermott continues to remain patient with media representatives on Creighton's trip East. Even though his team had just lost a tough game that cost it a share of first place in the Big East, McDermott fielded the inevitable questions about his quest to win college basketball's player of the year awards.
“They would mean a lot, but I just want to continue to win,” he said. “It's not about me, it's about us. These losses really hurt. It's a team sport. All those individual awards would be great but I'm just going to continue to play and it's all going to take care of itself at the end of the year.”
Bits and pieces
The Bluejays now trail Villanova by a half-game in the Big East. The Wildcats' next game is Wednesday at DePaul. … Gibbs' points-rebounds double-double was his first as a Bluejay. He also has had a points-assists double-double. … Creighton's five 3-pointers were its second-lowest total in a game this season. … Creighton's performance at the foul line also was its second-lowest of the season. The Bluejays made 14 of 25 (56 percent) against St. John's. Their season low is 53.6 percent. ... The turnout of 6,739 for Sunday's game was the lowest for the four games St. John's has played at Madison Square Garden this season. The Red Storm drew 16,357 for their game against Syracuse, 11,707 for Villanova and 12,561 for Marquette.