Sloppy. Cold. Frustrating. Sure, words to describe the weather in Omaha the last 24 hours. But adjectives applicable to Creighton’s wire-to-wire win against Tulsa Wednesday night. The Golden Hurricane showed up ahead of the blizzard, and the Bluejays sent Danny Manning’s team back to Oklahoma with their fifth loss of the season. But despite never trailing, the Jays didn’t exactly blow the roof off the CenturyLink Center.
It took a dominating first half from Gregory Echenique and a career night from Avery Dingman to offset turnover and rebounding problems.
Here are three thoughts while wondering what the team will do to stay sharp during an atypical 10-day layoff between the win against Tulsa and the conference-opener against Evansville.
Creighton committed a season-high 17 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle (again) — and won by 17.
Those Bluejays fans that braved the bad weather and covered roads were rewarded with an awkward start to the game. In the first 10 minutes, Creighton and Tulsa combined to commit 14 turnovers (7 apiece). Echenique offered a reprieve from the ugly action, easily dominating the paint against Tulsa’s frontcourt.
He scored 12 of Creighton’s first 18 points, helping set the Jays on the right course. Clinging to a one-point lead, 8-7, with 12:28 to play in the first half, the Bluejays went on a 21-7 run that stretched to the under-4:00 media timeout. The Jays took an 18-point lead into the locker room at halftime, an exceptional outcomes considering Doug McDermott scored just 4 points (making only one field goal) during the first half.
Following arguably the team’s best defensive effort of the season in a win at Cal last weekend, Creighton continued to frustrate Tulsa on that end. While CU turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, the Jays forced 13 Tulsa TOs, 8 of which were the result of a CU steal. The Jays shot 55% from the field and 44% from the three-point range in the first half, while Manning’s team struggled mightily — 29% from the field, just 13% from long range.
Tulsa’s shooting improved a bit in the second half, but by then the game was out of the Hurricane’s reach. The Jays pushed the lead to 22 points with just over 10 minutes to play in the game. And CU added 9 more CU steals in the second 20 minutes of play, accounting for three-quarters of Tulsa’s 12 second-half turnovers and pushing the overall Tulsa TO count to 25. Creighton’s 17 steals were the most since swiping 17 against Southern University in December 2008.
So, while the Jays committed a season-high 17 turnovers themselves, they used improved defense to neutralize their own mistakes. Creighton turned Tulsa’s 25 turnovers into 32 points, while the Golden Hurricane could only convert CU’s 17 turnovers into 11 points.
But Creighton didn’t only dominate points off mistakes. Led by Echenique, CU outscored Tulsa 34-18 in the paint. Manning’s bunch out-boarded CU by 10 in the second half and won the evening’s battle of the boards by 7, 35-28, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds to CU’s 5 in the process. Still, the Hurricane could only outscore the Jays 10-6 on second-chance points.
Dingman did damage. But where’s Wragge?
Creighton’s bench outscored the Tulsa reserves 26-14. But it was really only Avery Dingman who had a hugely productive night off the pine for the Jays. Dingman scored a career-high 21 points on 8-9 shooting from the field (5-6 from three-point range) while adding 3 steals and 3 rebounds in a season-high 23 minutes. One game after missing all three of his shots (all three-point attempts) at Cal, Dingman displayed the stroke and the slashing ability Jays fans hope to see more of during the sophomore’s season. At 6-6, Dingman can be a difficult matchup when playing defense, but his 3 steals against Tulsa were his first swipes of the season.
With Josh Jones out indefinitely with heart issues, Dingman (along with starter Jahenns Manigat) must make the most of the assumed increase in minutes he’ll receive. And his shooting ability off the bench is crucial especially when Ethan Wragge, CU’s nastiest sharpshooter, is off target. Wragge made just one of his 5 three-point attempts against Tulsa, leaving him 2 for his last 15 from long range. He had made 50% of his three-point shots through the Nebraska game, but subpar results against Akron, Cal, and the Golden Hurricane leave Wragge with an extended break to diagnose what’s wrong with his shot. Extend the glance at box scores back a bit, and Wragge’s only had one game of multiple three-point makes (3 against the Huskers) since the team’s trip to Las Vegas. He was 8-15 from long range in Sin City, and just 7-30 since.
He’s sure to get back on track. And as the Jays continue to post double-digit wins (each of Creighton’s 11 victories have come by 10 or more points), it is remarkable to consider what this team will look like on a night when Wragge and Dingman are both hitting shots off the bench. McDermott (he finished with 16 points and 5 rebounds. Ho. Hum.) may be the All-American, but this team is far from being a one-trick pony.
The Bluejays couldn’t beat Tulsa bad enough for me.
I hold sports grudges like nobody’s business. And during my formative years of Creighton basketball exposure, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane earned a special spot of sports hate in my young, irrational little heart.
Watching Tulsa and Creighton play while in grade school and high school, the Bluejays won just 5 times. They lost 13 times. During that stretch, the Golden Hurricane only finished ahead of the Jays in the MVC standings five times (91-92/92-93/93-94/94-95/95-96). But they had CU’s number, especially after Tony Barone left the Hilltop and Dana Altman tried to rescue the program from where it ended up during Rick Johnson’s regime.
While CU won 9, 8, 7, 7, and 14 games from 1991 through 1996, Tulsa posted 17-, 15-, 23-, 24-, and 22-win seasons. Tulsa left the Missouri Valley Conference following the 95-96 season, but not before Tubby Smith took the Hurricane to consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearances in 1994 and 1995 and Steve Robinson returned them to the NCAA Tournament in 1996 and 1997.
Tulsa missed the Big Dance in 1998, when Bill Self was in his first year on the Hurricane bench, but the future National Championship coach at Kansas would take Tulsa back to the NCAA Tournament in 1999 (second round) and 2000 (Elite Eight) before leaving for Illinois.
Creighton hosted Self’s last Tulsa team, losing 75-67 at the Civic Auditorium my sophomore year of college. The Bluejays advanced to the NCAA Tournament that season, too, and did so the following season during which CU beat Tulsa on the road in non-conference play.
Call it irrational or misguided (both apply), but I was always jealous of the March success that Tulsa had during the lean years for CU. So back-to-back drubbings by the Jays in 2011 and 2012, in rather meaningless games? I’ll take ‘em!