If one thing has become apparent in Creighton’s first two outside competitions, it’s that the Bluejays are going to ride their backcourt hard this season.
Guards Austin Chatman, Devin Brooks, Isaiah Zierden and James Milliken have combined to score 109 of the 195 points Creighton recorded in an exhibition win over Sioux Falls and Friday’s season-opening 104-77 victory over Central Arkansas.
“I think it’s showing that the chemistry we have,” Zierden said when asked about the guard rotation. “We’re sharing the ball really well. We know it’s our job to come in and produce.
“We have to make shots and get others shots. That’s what we’ve tried to focus on, and so far it’s worked.”
Chatman and Brooks will start Sunday’s home game against Chicago State, but chances are Zierden and Milliken will be in the game right before or shortly after the first media timeout.
Coach Greg McDermott probably will then mix and match the four guards the remainder of the game, as he did in the exhibition and the opener.
Brooks and Zierden can spell Chatman at the point-guard spot. Milliken and Zierden can shift into the third guard-small forward spot when the Bluejays move Ricky Kreklow to power forward.
Those options will expand when Avery Dingman returns to action. The senior sprained his ankle on Nov. 11 and probably will miss at least two more games.
“I think things are only going to get better when we get Avery back,” McDermott said. “Defensively, he’s going to make us better immediately.”
One of the pressing concerns heading into this season is where Creighton would look to replace the offense lost with the departure of four seniors. Doug McDermott, Jahenns Manigat, Grant Gibbs and Ethan Wragge accounted for 64 percent of the team’s scoring last season and 80 percent of its nation-leading 356 3-point field goals.
Chatman and Brooks are Creighton’s top two returning scorers, having averaged 8.1 and 6.5 points per game last season. Zierden averaged 3.2 points while playing an average of 11 minutes in 30 games, while Milliken redshirted after joining the program after two seasons of junior-college basketball.
The first two times Creighton has played, as Greg McDermott put it, with the “lights on,” Brooks has scored 30 points, Chatman 28, Zierden 27 and Milliken 24. They’ve combined to make 35 of 69 shots from the field and 16 of 36 3-pointers.
In addition, Brooks is the team’s second-leading rebounder with 14, and the four guards have combined for 24 of the Bluejays’ 38 assists.
“The best thing right now is that we can put a lot of different combinations out there,” McDermott said. “We can play any combination of Austin, Devin, James and Isaiah. I’m comfortable with any combination of those four.
“It makes it tough on opponents. They all can work in a ball screen, they all can shoot the 3 and they get into the paint in different ways. James and Isaiah use pace where Austin and Devin use their quickness. The fact that we can rotate them and find the hot hand is going to be a strength.”
That was evident in the win over Central Arkansas. Milliken heated up at the start of the game, scoring seven quick points after entering the game with 15:33 to play. Zierden then took over, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the final 11½ minutes of the first half.
“It’s all about trusting your teammates and knowing who’s feeling it,” Milliken said. “I was feeling it early in the game, then Isaiah caught fire. Guys knew when his man gave off a little bit of help, Isaiah was going to knock down the shot.
“So we got him the ball.”
Milliken and Zierden have each made five 3-point baskets in the two games. Brooks missed both of his attempts from beyond the arc against Central Arkansas after going 3 of 5 in the exhibition. Chatman is 3 of 10 on 3-point attempts and 9 of 22 overall.
“Austin hasn’t shot it as well as he would like to, but that’s going to come,” McDermott said after Friday’s win. “I didn’t think Devin had his best game (Friday), but he gets 12 (points), six (rebounds) and five (assists).
“If that’s a poor game for Devin, then we’re in good shape.”
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