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Polyfro Postgame: When It Mattered, Creighton Rolled

Out of the gates on Friday night, Creighton got exactly what they hoped for out of the University of Mary — a team playing hard and forcing the Jays to beat them, rather than beating themselves. The game was 10-10 at the first media timeout, and though no one really expected the Marauders to hang around the rest of the game, it looked like they might be competitive deeper into the night than anticipated.

A 17-0 run out of the timeout ended those thoughts; over a five-minute stretch of dominating basketball, the Jays effectively put the game out of reach. Keying the big run? Avery Dingman, a player that has been talked about all summer and fall as perhaps the most improved on the team. He scored 13 of his 18 points in that five-minute stretch, converting three 3-pointers, a layup and two free throws.

“In the first half, it felt like the basket was an ocean,” Dingman told AM590 after the game. “I got the first one to go down and it felt really good. I’ve been putting up a lot of baskets this week before and after practice, so it was fun to see them go in during a game.” He missed just one shot in the first half, an errant layup that was tipped in by teammate Will Artino. Dingman also earned an appreciative cheer for one defensive stand where he played textbook in-your-face defense, trapping his opponent in the corner single handedly.

“During that first timeout, we turned up the pressure a little bit,” head coach Greg McDermott noted in his postgame interview on AM590. “We’ve got to play both ways, because there’s teams that we’re going to want to pressure. We’re going to want to control their dribble, and force some teams to take threes. Mary’s a team that shoots it better than they drive it, so I wanted to see if we could get in the gaps, control the dribble and still get back to the three-point shooters. I thought we got caught back on our heels a few times, but as the half went on I though we were more aggressive and a little more assertive.”

Remarkably, the Jays had another huge run in them before the close of the half, this time a 16-0 run that saw five different players contribute baskets. That run gave them a 40-point lead, as they went to the locker room up 61-21 at the half.

“I liked our performance in the first half, I thought our ball movement was sharp and I thought we set the tone with our transition game,” Greg McDermott said on AM590’s postgame show. “Defensively, I thought we had a good mix of when we got out and pressured, and when we backed off to try and contain. But I thought we lost that a bit in the second half. Part of it’s human nature — the score differential was 40 points. We tried to get into them at the half, but the starters knew they were only going to get one run before I brought them to the bench so it was tough.”

With that kind of lead against a clearly inferior opponent, Creighton eased off the gas a bit in the second half, particularly with their starters, who logged just 28 combined minutes after the break. The sloppy play over the game’s final 15 minutes skews the overall statistics and the feeling many people took away from the game, but over the first 25 minutes of action — when the  outcome was in doubt and the action mattered — Creighton steamrolled their opponent. At one point late in the first half, Creighton had 14 assists on 18 made baskets, as they showed tremendous ball movement and unselfishness. That they had just four assists the rest of the game is something I’m sure a few folks will overreact about, but remember that the rotations and the lineups on the court in the second half won’t be what we see next Friday in the season opener.

The players who logged big minutes in place of the starters drew the ire of the coach for one particular reason. “We weren’t able to get anything going defensively in the second half, mostly because we fouled on the defensive end. Those fouls just kill us. It’s so important we don’t foul because we can’t establish a transition game when there’s that much stoppage. The opponent gets to rest, they get to take it out of bounds. We don’t want that. We want three or four minutes without a whistle. That would be best-case scenario for us.”

As they prepare for the season opener next Friday, decisions on redshirting need to be made, and the even tougher decision of how to allocate minutes to the bench players will be made. McDermott disagreed that the latter would be tough in his discussion with T.Scott and Nick Bahe after the game. “It’s not that tough. We’re going to play the guys that will help us win, and there’s going to be situations where it might be a different guy off the bench one night than it will be the next. If we’re going to have the success we had last year, and if we’re going to continue to move this program forward we need to have unselfish guys that put the program first. Our leadership is strong enough that I don’t see any problems with that.”

Without a doubt, the team is extraordinarily deep. Here’s some quick-hit thoughts about the players who saw the floor Friday night:

Doug McDermott scored 18 points, though with the CenturyLink scoreboard malfunctioning I’m willing to bet most folks didn’t realize it. I sure didn’t. That’s vintage Doug, though — he quietly fills up the stat sheet. In 16 minutes he was 6-9 from the field, made all five of his free throws and grabbed four rebounds. Any worries about rust from his time off this fall should be put to rest.

Gregory Echenique played just 13 minutes, and struggled because of the way he was defended by a team with no player taller than 6’6″. He made all six of his free throws, though, which is great to see out of the big man.

Josh Jones started in place of the injured Jahenns Manigat, and played well. He played the most minutes of any starter (22) and though he went 4-6 from behind the arc, the most impressive thing was how he picked and chose his shots within the offense. It’s fascinating to watch his growth as a player under Coach Mac’s staff — Jones has evolved from a mistake-prone streaky shoot-first guard into a guard who (mostly) picks intelligent shots and has the ability to wreck havoc defensively. His three steals Friday were testament to that.

Grant Gibbs was, well, Grant Gibbs. In 14 minutes he had six assists and made the only shot he attempted. He also had three steals, two of which came in the team’s 17-0 run that broke the game open.

Austin Chatman played very well in his first game as the team’s point guard. Antoine Young, the player he replaces, was a point guard who was second on the team in shot attempts. Chatman is a point guard who will take the shots he’s given, but looks to distribute first. Four assists and no turnovers in 17 minutes in a great start for the Jays new point man. Defensively was where he really shined, however. He’s aggressive and intense — remember when he completely shut down Long Beach State’s Casper Ware on a late-game possession last year? — and seems like the most likely candidate to be the team’s shutdown defender.

Ethan Wragge and his Paul Bunyan beard played 16 minutes; though his shot was off Friday (1-5 from behind the arc), Greg McDermott noted in the postgame that he’s been shooting the lights out in practice so the sweet-shooting Wragge of old won’t be away for long.

Avery Dingman was mentioned often as the team’s most improved player, and while that’s debatable, there’s no doubt he’s made huge strides from his freshman year to now. He was confident, he put the ball on the floor, and he played some solid defense on the wing — and his outside stroke is as pure as it was a year ago.

Andre Yates surprised a lot of people, myself included, with his athleticism. If you ask me, there’s no question which player redshirts and which player logs minutes between Yates and Isaiah Zierden. Yates is lightning quick, well-built for a freshman, and brings to the table the two things this team desperately needs: an ability to attack defenders off the dribble, and the ability to steal the ball defensively. I’ll be astonished if he’s not the backup point guard come Friday night.

Will Artino logged very solid minutes off the bench, with nine points and eight rebounds in 15 minutes. He’s added bulk since last year, and rebounds seem to find his hands. Offensively, he’s still a work in progress, but if he can defend in short spurts and grab rebounds, he’s a very capable backup to Echenique. That will be an important role, especially early, as Geoffrey Groselle struggles with his achilles injury. Groselle played 10 minutes but clearly had trouble getting loose.

How will the minutes be divided up? We’ll begin to see on Friday when North Texas comes to town.

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