To date, Creighton's bread and butter has been a post-to-perimeter strategy, and Saturday's 75-58 Missouri Valley Conference win over visiting Bradley showed why.
For much of the first half Bluejay marksmen continually found themselves open behind the arc, and repeatedly misfired. By time the first-half buzzer sounded, Creighton had already attempted 21 triples, connecting on just a third of those tries. Most of the shots were open looks by good shooters; the only problem was they weren't finding the bottom of the net.
"The first half, Bradley did a great job of muddying things up inside and coming at us with some double teams. Normally when teams do that to us, we have a way of making them pay with our ability to shoot the ball from the three-point line," said Coach Greg McDermott. "The majority of our shots the first half were three-point shots, many of which were from some of our best shooters. (Ethan) Wragge had, I think, four or five looks, Jahenns (Manigat) was one for three, Doug (McDermott) had a couple open looks, and they just didn't go in."
The "Pink Out" crowd of over 18,000 was quieted as Bradley took a 30-27 lead into intermission following a 17-7 Braves run that spanned the final nine plus minutes of the half. After watching open three after open three draw iron, and the Braves controlling the pace of the game, the Bluejays altered their approach at the half.
"I'm not going to tell Ethan Wragge not to shoot. Jahenns Manigat and Doug, guys that have shot the ball over the test time at almost a 50-percent clip for their careers, when they've rhythm threes with no one on their side of the floor, they've got a lot of thought," said the coach of the 20-3 Bluejays. "The second half, we just wanted to try and get an inside touch first. Whether that was off the drive, or off a pass into the post, we just wanted to try establish something in there."
Going back to their proven formula proved to be productive. Gregory Echenique and McDermott each scored a pair of inside baskets on the Bluejays first four possessions of the half, while holding Geno Ford's squad scoreless in that stretch. The 8-0 swing put the Bluejays back in front, a lead they would never surrender.
"For us to hold them to 27 points in the first half was really great because we set the tempo and we had it going at a pace that we wanted," said Dyricus Simms-Edwards who lead the Braves with 18 points. "We were trying to focus on what got us to that point. Unfortunately, we came out in the second half, and when we get away from our bench on defense - I don't really know what it is - but we kind of lose focus a little bit on communication."
Creighton did a better job of capitalizing on the Braves' defensive mistakes in the second half, scoring 48 points. In addition to the run to start the half, the Bluejays later put together a 12-0 stretch, which included nine straight points from McDermott, to put the game out of reach. McDermott finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, which nearly mirrors his season averages. Bradley did its best to confuse McDermott, switching defenders and sending additional pressure from various spots, but still struggled to contain him, as he finished 9-15 from the floor on the night.
"We were trying to give him a bunch of looks because we knew if we gave him one look the entire night, that isn't going to work. I don't really know the plan to stop him," said Ford. "Drake did a good job, got him sick. We didn't quite come up with that, I tried to send him a box of chicken before the game."
With Wragge, Manigat and Avery Dingman finishing a combined 3-14 from distance, Creighton needed another consistent offensive threat to step up. For the second straight game, point guard Austin Chatman finished as the team's second-leading scorer. Chatman made four of seven three point attempts and finished with a career-high 16 points.
"My man was doing a lot of the digging, so it left me open for a lot of threes. I've just been in the gym, working with coaches, kind of just staying after my shot. It paid off," said Chatman.
Creighton's next test will be a tough one, heading to play Indiana St. in a midweek contest. The Sycamores are proving to be win one of the toughest wins in the conference, and will be looking for revenge after Creighton's 79-66 win in Omaha last month.