OMAHA, NEB. —
For 30 minutes, Indiana State’s men’s basketball forced their style on No. 16 Creighton and had the Bluejays worried in front of their fifth-largest crowd in the CenturyLink Center’s history.
But it was the last 10 minutes that defined the game … and that was the Bluejays’ time to enforce their will.
Creighton scored on eight consecutive second-half trips down the floor and the Sycamores couldn’t keep up with that pace as the Bluejays prevailed 79-66 in a battle of Missouri Valley Conference unbeaten teams.
The game was closer than the score indicated. It was tied with 10 minutes to go, but Creighton outscored ISU 28-15 to surge to its eighth consecutive victory. ISU’s three-game winning streak was snapped.
“We didn’t have enough today for an unbelievably talented team. I told the guys I thought we fought hard, we were hanging around by the skin of our teeth, but we didn’t do the things we needed to do on either end to win. Give Creighton all the credit in the world,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Manny Arop and Jake Odum co-led ISU (9-5, 2-1) with 13 points. Justin Gant added 12.
Like nearly every other team that Creighton has played, ISU couldn’t hold Doug McDermott back. The junior had 25 points and nine rebounds.
“He’s a great player and he’s very smart. He’s always two passes ahead so he already knows what he’s going to do when they swing it around. You have to make him take tough shots because you know he’s going to score,” said Gant, whose primary defensive assignment was McDermott.
As good as McDermott was, the key for Creighton (14-1, 3-0) might have been center Gregory Echenique. He had 16 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. He also provided the Bluejays some much-needed momentum when they needed it.
He did it with his defense late in the first half with ISU up six and with his scoring in the paint as he ignited the 16-2 Creighton run that took the Sycamores out of it in the second half.
Creighton guards Austin Chatman (nine assists) and Grant Gibbs (eight assists) also hurt the Sycamores.
“They did a great job of setting everything up, but we didn’t have anything for Echenique,” Lansing said.
Until the final 10 minutes, ISU had played its style and had given the Bluejays fits at times. A 10-0 ISU run early in the second half gave ISU its biggest lead at 39-32 with 17:24 left.
But the Sycamores couldn’t keep the Creighton dam from breaking.
Creighton fought back to take the lead by the 15-minute mark. ISU’s last lead was at 10:55, but the Sycamores got caught in an unappealing pattern as it had to match Creighton score-for-score.
The scoring dried up in the last 10 minutes for ISU — the Sycamores had just four field goals over that period, but Creighton kept on firing.
Echenique converted a layup and an alley-oop dunk to start the decisive run. An Ethan Wragge 3-pointer at 9:15 gave the Bluejays a five-point advantage.
Creighton’s run started with McDermott on the bench with three fouls.
“They found big Greg on three straight possessions and Ethan will shoot no matter how he’s shooting it. It was exciting to watch,” Doug McDermott said.
ISU also hurt itself at the free throw line in this period, missing six of eight attempts at one point and Creighton never looked back. It scored 52 points in the second half and its lead peaked at 15 in the final minute.
“They’re probably the most efficient offensive team in the country. You just can’t have any slip-ups out there or any breakdowns. We didn’t do that,” Odum said. “We weren’t talking and rotating and you just can’t do that against a team like this.”
It wasn’t that way to start. The grind-it-out identity by which ISU has defined itself held sway. The Sycamores frustrated the Bluejays, who couldn’t find any space to shoot and few passing lanes to find cutters.
Gant guarded McDermott one-on-one with help defense swooping from within and from without periodically.
The teams traded 5-0 runs midway through the half and Creighton led 21-18. Then ISU cranked up the defensive intensity.
Starting at the six-minute mark, Creighton had a stretch of five turnovers in six possessions and had a stretch where it scored just one field goal in an eight-minute-plus span. ISU’s 9-0 run was punctuated by a Dawon Cummings 3-pointer at 3:16 to put the Sycamores up 27-21.
Creighton regained its bearings via its own defense. Echenique blocked a pair of shots — Lansing thought one of them was a foul — on an empty possession and it awoke the slumbering Creighton beast.
The Bluejays fed the ball to McDermott — Gant was out due to foul trouble — and the All-American hit two buckets in succession to get Creighton off the mat. Creighton finished the half on a 6-0 run to force a 27-27 halftime stalemate.
ISU played Illinois State, Northern Iowa and Creighton — all picked in the top three in the MVC preseason poll — in the first week and emerged with a 2-1 mark.
ISU next plays host to Bradley on Wednesday.
INDIANA STATE (66) — Kitchell 0-0 3-4 3, Arop 4-8 3-4 13, Gant 5-13 0-0 12, Cummings 2-4 0-0 5, Odum 4-12 4-5 13, Eitel 1-2 0-0 2, Brown 3-5 2-4 9, Mahurin 2-5 3-7 7, K. Smith 1-2 0-0 2. 22-51 FG, 15-24 FT, 66 TP.
CREIGHTON (79) — McDermott 9-19 5-6 25, Echenique 7-9 2-3 16, Chatman 4-7 3-4 13, Gibbs 0-1 4-6 4, Manigat 2-2 0-0 6, Stormberg 0-0 0-0 0, Dingman 2-5 0-0 6, Artino 0-0 0-0 0, Wragge 3-6 0-0 9. 27-49 FG, 14-19 FT, 79 TP.
Halftime score — 27-27. 3-point goals — ISU 7-14 (Gant 2-5, Arop 2-3, Odum 1-2, Brown 1-2, Cummings 1-1, Mahurin 0-1), CU 11-22 (Wragge 3-6, McDermott 2-6, Dingman 2-4, Chatman 2-3, Gibbs 0-1). Rebounds — ISU 25 (Mahurin 5, Odum 5, Kitchell 3, Team 3, Arop 2, Brown 2, K. Smith 2, Gant, Cummings, Eitel), CU 33 (McDermott 9, Echenique 9, Dingman 5, Gibbs 4, Team 3, Wragge 2, Chatman), Assists — ISU 10 (Cummings 4, Mahurin 2, K. Smith 2, Gant, Odum), CU 22 (Chatman 9, Gibbs 8, Dingman 3, Manigat 2), Steals — ISU 6 (K. Smith 2, Arop, Gant, Cummings, Brown), CU 4 (Chatman, Gibbs, Stormberg, Dingman), Blocks — ISU 1 (Gant), CU 5 (Echenique 4, Gibbs), Turnovers — ISU 10 (Arop 3, Kitchell 2, Odum 2, Gant, Mahurin, K. Smith), CU 11 (McDermott 3, Gibbs 3, Chatman 2, Echenique, Artino, Team), Total fouls — ISU 16, CU 18. A — 17,694.
Next — Indiana State (9-5, 2-1) plays host to Bradley and Creighton (14-1, 3-0) plays host to Drake on Wednesday.