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MEN'S BASKETBALL

Greg McDermott's young Bluejays enter new phase in their development

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Trey Alexander

Trey Alexander played a key role in Creighton's comeback victory against SIU-Edwardsville last week, and he credited Greg McDermott for putting him in position to perform.

In the first half Saturday, coach Greg McDermott leaned down to talk to a freshman seated toward the end of Creighton's bench.

It'd been a rough start for guard Trey Alexander.

And with about nine minutes to go in the first half, before he'd experienced all of the highs and lows this game has to offer — and well before he helped CU complete a 16-point comeback with key shots late — Alexander got a message from his coach.

McDermott's advice was simple and familiar: Focus on the details.

"I talked to him on the bench — just little things, they matter," McDermott said. "Trying to get young guys to understand that sometimes can be a challenge."

Seven games into the season, this appears to be the next stage of Creighton's development.

The Jays, with youth at every position, have shown flashes of what they can become — they've erased deficits with electrifying offense and stifling defense. They've produced a 6-1 record, one win from their best start in five years.

Now they're searching for consistency. And according to McDermott, it starts by constantly emphasizing the basics of the game.

The only issue: It can be rather difficult for inexperienced players to recognize when they're unintentionally riding the waves of emotion and momentum, instead of concentrating on their on-court duties. Mistakes can pile up fast. Frustration can set in.

Half of Creighton's rotation is working through this growth process. And they're regularly doing it against teams with upperclassmen who've already progressed past this maturation checkpoint.

CU on Tuesday will host North Dakota State (4-2), which is the fourth Creighton opponent this year that's returned at least 90% of its scoring from a season ago.

Meanwhile, the Jays have lots to figure out.

"Guys are learning," McDermott said. "They're learning to play at the speed and the physicality that comes with college basketball. And they're learning how to be coached. It's just different."

But McDermott has said repeatedly there will be a payoff if his players can stay the course.

Alexander got a taste of that Saturday.

He was the one who pulled Creighton within 65-64 after he nailed a 3-pointer with 3:10 left against SIU-Edwardsville. He gave the Jays the lead for good on the next possession when he made a driving layup. He blocked a perimeter shot on the other end too.

"In the first half, the game wasn't going my way," Alexander said. "I had to refocus myself, because I was playing lackadaisical the first couple minutes I was in the game. But a switch kind of turned on after (McDermott) pulled me."

McDermott complimented Alexander for his resilience.

This was the same guy who gave up some buckets early on defense. Alexander twice stepped on the sideline for turnovers. At halftime, the Jays had been outscored by 21 points during the 13 minutes Alexander was on the court.

Yet he'd found his footing in crunch time.

The Jays hope to showcase that same team-wide transformation over the course of the season.

"We have a lot of room to grow," McDermott said.

Projected starters

North Dakota State (4-2)

G Tyree Eady, 6-5, Jr., 6.8 ppg

G Willie Guy, 5-11, So., 3.8

G Jarius Cook, 6-3, So., 10.0

F Grant Nelson, 6-11, Fr., 11.5

F Rocky Kreuser, 6-10, Sr., 15.3

Creighton (6-1)

G Ryan Nembhard, 6-0, Fr., 13.4

G Alex O'Connell, 6-6, Sr., 12.3

F Arthur Kaluma, 6-7, Fr., 9.6

F Ryan Hawkins, 6-7, Sr., 13.1

C Ryan Kalkbrenner, 7-1, So., 12.4


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