The last time Creighton fans watched the Bluejays at the CenturyLink Center, the crowd nearly suffered mass cardiac arrest. In fact, the previous 85 minutes of hoops in their home building saw the Bluejays scratch out two wins by a total of three points.
Since those games, Creighton ran wild through St. Louis en route to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship. The Jays beat Alabama in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and turned in a solid if unsuccessful effort against No. 1 seed North Carolina in the tournament’s third round.
So Bluejay backers shuffled into the CLink Friday night eager to see for themselves what media and onlookers had been hyping since that loss last March to the Tar Heels: a potential Sweet Sixteen team on the Hilltop. Certainly, exhibition games against Division II teams are no ways to judge where a team will be come February or March. But Creighton’s exhibition against the University of Mary gave fans a chance to sit back, relax, and watch one of the last non-nerve-wrecking games Creighton will play at home this season. Expectations are high this season; expect blood pressure to be the same most nights.
As my colleague Max/Polyfro pointed out (complete with player recaps), the Bluejays sailed to a 61-21 lead at half, dominating play during the 25 minutes when the game was up for grabs. Most of the second half was simply ugly, with CU bench players forming random combinations and struggling to get stops without fouling. But before that, the Bluejays passed the eye test Creighton fans were likely applying to this recognizable roster. All-American Doug McDermott made 6 of 9 shots and scored 18 points in 16 minutes. Grant Gibbs (6 assists) and Austin Chatman (4 assists) combined for 10 dimes without committing a turnover. Gregory Echenique used his newly chiseled frame to draw fouls in the frontcourt; he scored 8 points thanks to a perfect 6-6 performance on the free throw line. And Josh Jones stepped into the starting lineup for an injured Jahenns Manigat and got the Jays going with a team-high 3 steals (Gibbs and Andre Yates also swiped 3) and four made three-pointers (13 points on the night).
Avery Dingman’s been mentioned during the offseason as one of — if not the — the most improved Bluejays, and he showed why when he came off the bench in the first half. Dingman matched Jones’ four made three-pointers and added a few more buckets to match McDermott for a team-high 18 points. Dingman also grabbed 6 rebounds, all in 15 minutes.
Statistically, the Bluejay offense was a thing of beauty during the game’s first half. Creighton shot 63% from the field, 67% from three-point range, and 93% from the charity stripe en route to a 61-21 lead. A few folks in section 123 were wondering aloud what Creighton’s record is for quickest effort to Godfather’s Pizza. The rout was on.
Passing was crisp. The Jays took care of the ball. It was tough to judge the defensive performance due to the opponent; nothing against Mary, but the Marauders were overmatched. Creighton committed only 8 turnovers; only one came from a CU starter. Meanwhile, the Jays scored 18 points on 14 Mary turnovers, outscoring their opponent 18-0 in that category. The Jays assisted on 18 of 28 made field goals. They outrebounded Mary 49-33. Sure, the Marauders outscored Creighton’s subs 30-28 in the second half, but after 20 minutes the damage was done.
Things will get a bit more difficult next Friday, when the Bluejays host Tony Mitchell and North Texas for the regular season home opener. Echenique may not give way to major minutes for Will Artino or Geoffrey Groselle. Isaiah Zierden or Yates might play a little, but I wouldn’t expect both guys to see the court. Walk-ons Taylor Stormberg, Mo Oginni, Alex Olsen, and Joe Kelling will likely keep their contributions to the bench. Distribution of minutes among the backcourt contributors will likely depend on Manigat’s recovery from a deep thigh bruise and whoever is best suited to defend the athletic Mean Green guards.
But none of those things mattered Friday night. It was just time to get back in the swing of things, for the team and the fans. Reconnect with friends in and around your section. Dream big dreams about what could be this season. And savor the start of another year of Creighton hoops.