Following a rousing win against St. Joe’s a few weeks ago, the Creighton Bluejays took a week off from games to focus on taking semester final exams. With the Missouri Valley Conference test about to begin on December 29 in Normal, Illinois, Greg McDermott’s team needed a few games around the holidays to regain their form and work with their full complement of healthy players. The last of those three games takes place Wednesday, when the Bluejays host the Samford Bulldogs.
Samford is hardly a pushover, especially when shooting the ball from long range. Samford comes into this game after coming back from 13 points down against Texas-San Antonio on Monday night, including hitting a 3-pointer with under 10 seconds to tie the game and then forcing a turnover to give them a final shot in regulation. Omaha native Andy King was fouled on the ensuing play and hit one of two free throws to help Sanford escape with a 74-73 win.
With 36 3-pointers made in their last two games, you know that the Bulldogs rely on the 3 as a huge weapon. And we all know how the Bluejays defend against the 3-pointer.
To learn as much as we could in a short amount of time about the Samford Bulldogs, we at WBR turned to Rubin Grant of the Birmingham News. He’s been covering sports in the Birmingham area for more than 30 years. He worked 25 years for the now defunct Birmingham Post-Herald and served as a beat writer for Auburn basketball during the days of Charles Barkley and Chuck Person in the mid-1980s. Below, he gives us a little insight into what to expect during Creighton’s game with Samford Wednesday night.
White & Blue Review: What is the biggest thing that Samford is known for whether it is basketball or anything else?
Rubin Grant: Although Samford went to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 1999 and 2000, the school is best known athletically for being where Bobby Bowden began his climb to legendary status as a football coach at Florida State. Bowden coached Samford when it was known as Howard College from 1959-1962 and compiled a 31-6 record, including a 9-1 mark in his first season, and took the Bulldogs to two small-college bowl games. Bowden also played quarterback at Samford and was a Little American in 1952. Florida State president T.K. Wetherell had to issue an apology for disparaging remarks about Bowden’s coaching career at Samford.
WBR: Samford isn’t a stranger to knocking off bigger teams than them. They already knocked off Auburn on their home court earlier this season. What was the key in getting that big win?
RG: It was big win only on paper because Auburn is horrible this season, also losing to the likes of North Carolina-Asheville, Campbell, and Presbyterian. Still, the 79-68 win was good for Samford since it came against an SEC team, and showed how well the Bulldogs can play when they are making 3-pointers. They made 18-of-33 3-pointers (54.5%) in the victory.
WBR: What kind of expectations are there for Samford once they hit Southern Conference play?
RG: The Bulldogs, off to an 8-4 start, were picked to finish fourth in the six-team SoCon North Division, but that might be a little low. Samford already has played two conference division rivals (both at home), beating Western Carolina 63-58, but losing to Appalachian State 78-69. The Bulldogs open January with three consecutive SoCon road games and five of six overall, so if they hold their own on the road, they could challenge Chattanooga and Appalachian State for the division title.
WBR: The Bulldogs led the nation last season in percentage of shots being 3-pointers. Why do they put up so many shots from behind the arc?
RG: Head coach Jimmy Tillette has employed the Princeton offense since 1997, which puts a heavy emphasis on 3-point shooting and backdoor cuts. Tillette recruits players who can shoot the 3 and every player on the team is allowed to shoot 3-pointers. Plus, the Bulldogs don’t have anybody who comes close to being a force in the low post, making their perimeter game crucial.
WBR: Andy King is an Omaha native and gets a chance to play in front of his hometown crowd. What does he bring to the team? How will he match up against Kenny Lawson and Gregory Echenique?
RG: King, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound senior center, is the team’s most experienced post player, although he comes off the bench. He’s more of a finesse player (what else?) who is a 3-point threat and solid passer, leading the team in assists. He’s not a great rebounder, but at times can be an effective defender. With that said, he could into foul trouble trying to guard Lawson and Echenique.
WBR: Who are the players that Creighton needs to watch out for on Wednesday night?
RG: Samford goes 10 deep and any one of their players is capable of a big game on a given night, but versatile junior guard Jeffrey Merritt and sharp-shooting senior guard Josh Davis are the Bulldogs’ two best players. The 6-foot-6 Merritt is capable of getting a double-double on any given night and can score effectively inside and outside. Davis can fill it up from beyond the arc when he’s on — he made 8-of-10 treys and scored a career-high 30 points against Auburn — but he has been in a shooting slump for most of the season. Reserve sophomore guard Gregg Wooten is a slasher who can create havoc on both ends of the court.
WBR: Are there any weaknesses that the Bluejays could have an opportunity to exploit?
RG: Samford lacks a physical presence underneath the basket. If Creighton pounds the ball inside to Lawson and Echenique, they can push the Bulldogs around. The Bluejays also should be able to get good perimeter shots because Samford’s defensive rotation is sometimes lacking.
WBR: The Qwest Center can hold 17,000 fans. How will the Bulldogs handle the fired up crowd?
RG: Instead of being intimidated, Samford might actually be energized playing in front of a big, enthusiastic crowd because at home the Bulldogs play in front of mostly empty seats.
WBR: What will Samford need to do in order to win the game? What is your final prediction?
RG: The Bulldogs tied their season-high with 18 3-pointers in an impressive 74-73 comeback road win at Texas-San Antonio on Monday. They will need to light it up again from 3-point range against the Bluejays otherwise Creighton’s physical advantage could turn this into a blowout. Prediction: Creighton 75-62.