Thanksgiving is for the gluttons. It’s an excuse to eat more than normal, or drink more than usual. The extended weekend offers consumers the chance to buck readjusted spending habits and return to the big box retailers they love in search of the perfect gifts at the perfect prices. Consumption, for many, is the key to a triumphant Thanksgiving.
This is especially applicable for sports fans. Whether college basketball is your sport, or like the rest of American you prefer the pigskin, there are endless hours of tip-offs and tackling to devour during Turkey Day weekend. It would be ideal to get outside and burn some calories following the meals and drinks shared with family and friends, but in many households the cable box gets the most strenuous workout. If a Cox Cable box could sweat, it would during this extended weekend.
This abundance of athletics extended to Creighton basketball, too. Last Thanksgiving, Creighton travelled to Orlando and returned from the Old Spice Classic with a winless record in three tournament games showcased on the ESPN family of networks. This season CU fans could get their fill of Bluejays hoops with two games in three days, beginning with a home game on Friday against Kennesaw State and continuing with an HD broadcast of the Bluejays’ away game at Northwestern. The former gave Creighton fans a glimpse of the unselfishness and attention to detail Greg McDermott’s coaching staff has preached since taking over the program, while the latter put a damper on the weekend and offers warning of a difficult week ahead.
Creighton 75, Kennesaw State 57
The tryptophan daze many people think they feel from turkey and the fixings on Thanksgiving apparently carried over to the Qwest Center Friday night. Five minutes into the Bluejays’ win against the Owls, the visitors held an 11-4 lead. A 32-13 run over the remaining 15 minutes of the first half allowed Creighton to take a 12-point lead into the break, keyed by 21 bench points. With only two starters (Darryl Ashford with 8 points, Doug McDermott with 7) scoring in the first stanza, non-starters Jahenns Manigat (10 points) and Wayne Runnels (7 points) made the most of their appearances off the pine.
Having lost to Iowa State a few nights earlier, the Owls seemed spent. They never mounted a serious challenge to the Bluejays, aside from that early but short lived lead. The teams exchanged baskets early in the second half, but then the Bluejays pulled away. The lead hovered around 20 points for much of the second 20 minutes, allowing walk-ons Taylor Stormberg, Derek Sebastian, Ross Ferrarini, and Matthew Dorwart a few minutes near the end of the game. And it was Sebastian who scored with just under 15 seconds to play, giving fans the Godfather’s Pizza prize they coveted all season.
The win against Kennesaw State offer Jays fans their second consecutive solid outing offensively. CU shot 52% from the field, 89% from the free throw line, and 37.5% from 3-point range. And the team assisted 25 times on 29 made baskets.
Ten Bluejays scored, and the freshman McDermott led all Jays with 18 points on 7-9 shooting from the field. After the weekend, Doug is tied for the team lead with 14.3 points per game and is second in field goal percentage (56% from the floor).
And with a quick turnaround against Northwestern in Evanston, it seemed advantageous that Kenny Lawson (15 minutes) and Antoine Young (27 minutes) played almost 10 minutes less than their per-game averages. The Wildcats would be fresh, waiting more than a week without a game before playing the Bluejays. CU would need Young and Lawson to arrive in the Windy City rested and ready to exert maximum effort.
Northwestern 65, Creighton 57
Lawson looked ready minutes into the Bluejays’ first true road game of 2010-11. The senior post player scored 6 of Creighton’s first 8 points, and the Jays tried to keep up with the well-tuned offense on display by John Shurna and Northwestern. After a series of slow starts to begin his final year as a Bluejay, Lawson looked primed for the televised contest. The commentators on the Big Ten Network couldn’t stop talking about Lawson’s abilities near the rim, and the Wildcats couldn’t stop the Sheriff from scoring and grabbing boards. He scored as many points in the first half (11) as he did in each of the games against Alabama State (11), Northern Arizona (10), and Kennesaw State (7) total. And his 6 first-half rebounds were as many as he posted in the Alabama State and Northern Arizona games total.
The Bluejays shot 46% in the first half, and 40% from 3-point range. They led Northwestern on the boards (17-13) and assisted on 9 of 12 made baskets. But defensively, was porous. The Wildcats made 57% of their shot attempts and turned the ball over just 2 times (to Creighton’s 6 turnovers). Shurna, one of the better players in a great basketball conference, scored 14 points in 15 minutes of play in the first half. Michael Thompson added 10 from the point guard spot. The Wildcats took a 40-32 lead into the locker room.
Greg McDermott’s strategy seemed established. Feed Lawson the ball in the post, and hope that a few shots would fall from the outside. On the defensive end, the Bluejays had to adjust to Northwestern’s motion offense, one predicated on hard cuts, solid screens, and heady play. Rotate. Challenge shooters. And box out.
Three and a half minutes into the second half, the formula seemed to be working. Four points from Young and a bucket by Doug McDermott, coupled with just a made 3-pointer by Shurna, left the Jays down 5 with 16 minutes to play. Virtually an entire half ahead of them, on the road, to settle in and challenge and aspiring NCAA Tournament participant. But to do that, they’d need to make some shots.
It didn’t happen. Creighton scored just one point (a Young free throw at the 12:19 mark) in the following 8-plus minutes, during which time the Wildcat lead grew to 16 points. Here’s the series of events:
- Missed 3
- Missed 3
- Missed 3
- Missed layup
- Made free throw
- Missed free throw
- Missed 3
- Missed jump shot
- Missed 3
- Missed layup
But it wasn’t as though Northwestern was running wild during that stretch, or for the entirety of the second half for that matter. They shot nearly 20 percentage points worse from the field in the second half compared to the first, and they made only one-third of their 3-pointers. Unfortunately for the Bluejays, though, those percentages still trumped Creighton’s output.
The Bluejays didn’t make a 3-pointer in the second half, and made just 28% of their shots in the second stanza. Only two players scored for Creighton in the last 21 minutes of the game: Doug McDermott scored 10 and Young 12 of Creighton’s final 22 points. Lawson? He ended the evening stuck on the same 11 points he had at halftime, having gone 0-3 from the floor in the second stanza despite playing 18 minutes. He grabbed some rebounds, and posted a double-double for the game (11 points, 12 boards). But offensively Lawson disappeared. And so did the Bluejays.
Young tried to take the Bluejays on his broad shoulders late in the game, as he did against Iowa State, but the double-digit lead proved to be insurmountable. He and McDermott whittled the Wildcat lead down to 8 points with 2 minutes to play. But fouls, a turnover, and missed 3-pointers lead to dunks and layups for the home team, resulting in the final 13-point margin.
And so a week that offers Creighton its toughest three-game stretch until early January starts with a loss that exposes some of the Bluejays’ weaknesses. Chief among them, of course, is offensive consistency. Without a deft outside shooter, and sans dominating performances from Lawson on a nightly basis, one has to imagine exactly who, besides a freshman forward and a junior point guard, Coach Mac and his staff can count on to create his own shots. Ethan Wragge is just warming up, but he hasn’t made a 3-pointer in 5 attempts during 2 games of action. Josh Jones has twice as many long-range looks as Wragge, but exactly the same number of makes. Instead, it has been Manigat, a freshman, knocking down a few 3-pointers. And Darryl Ashford remains a critical part of Creighton’s offense. After posting solid consecutive efforts against Iowa State (17 points) and Kennesaw State (13 points), Sleep failed to wake up offensively for the trip to Chicago; he failed to tally a point against the Wildcats. Is it a coincidence that Creighton’s two best offensive efforts of the short season included double-digit scoring performances from Ashford? Doubt it.
Will the offense perk up for a visit from nationally ranked BYU Wednesday? Will the Bluejays have enough firepower to beat Nebraska Sunday in Lincoln? Fans who feasted on food and sports this weekend have to hope Sunday night’s outcome wasn’t a sign of fasting on the offensive end this week. To keep up with the Cougars, and the overcome the Huskers’ stout defense, Creighton needs to indulge in the scoring column.