No. 15 Creighton got hit in the mouth against Colorado State down in Kansas City last week, suffering its first loss of the season. Shots didn’t fall and they didn’t respond well, according to Ryan Kalkbrenner.
That being said, while Coach Greg McDermott saw plenty of things in the game film to focus on and tighten up over the last few days of practice, Creighton isn’t going to make any dramatic adjustments in its approach as a result of the loss.
“We got really good shots,” McDermott said. “If we play that first half over again and take the exact same shots and they take the exact same shots, I think we have a double-digit lead and I think the game probably goes a different direction in the second half. But we started pressing a little and especially when we got to 10 minutes into second half and we weren’t really able to cut into that lead as much as we’d like, and I think we got a little fatigued too.
“We are going to have to be a team that’s going to make jump shots; that’s the reality of who we are and we’ve shown that we can do that at a high level. Unfortunately that’s the game of basketball. The Lakers got beat by 40 last night, so it happens.”
McDermott said the team took Friday off but spent Saturday and Sunday working on themselves and getting back to the way they want to play — namely more pace and better spacing. Kalkbrenner said they’ve also focused on improving intensity and communication on defense after suffering too many lapses against Colorado State. The Rams shot nearly 55% from the field in the second half on Thursday.
“I just think that we need a little bit more teeth on defense,” Trey Alexander said. “I think that in the first half, we played pretty well even without shots falling on the defensive end. But then the second half I feel like we kind of got away from that. We were letting guys get to their spots, I think we weren’t getting over screens as well as we should have been, things like that.”
One thing that should help the team is improved health. After missing both games in Kansas City with an illness, Mason Miller has been back in practice this week. Jasen Green also made his Creighton debut in limited minutes during the Hall of Fame Classic after missing the first four games while recovering from a hand injury.
“Mason was back in practice, certainly not back to 100% yet after missing as much time as he’s missed, but he’s getting better every day,” McDermott said. “Jasen Green is getting back in shape. It’s going to take him a while and he was kind of thrown into action when he probably wasn’t totally ready for it having practiced only a couple of days.”
Though the Jays played away from CHI Health Center Omaha for the first time last week, it was essentially a pair of home games as the vast majority of the crowd at the T-Mobile Center was wearing Creighton blue. That won’t be the case Thursday night when Creighton plays its first true road game at Oklahoma State in the Big East-Big 12 Battle.
“It’s going to be a challenging game,” McDermott said. “Oklahoma State hasn’t had their entire roster for one game yet this season. They missed a couple guards early and missed a big a game. Bryce [Thompson] was out a few games; I think he’ll be back. This is a team that if they were healthy from the jump, they’d be 6-0 and we’d be talking about how good they are. They’ve had to deal with some guys out of the lineup. Now that they’re back, we’re going to have to play well.”
Oklahoma State is 3-3 despite only playing one high-major opponent. The Cowboys lost to Notre Dame in overtime on Nov. 17 to fall to 1-4 before winning their last two against New Orleans and Houston Christian in blowout fashion.
Oklahoma State has five players averaging double-digit scoring but only one of them (John-Michael Wright, 10.3 points per game) has played in all five games. According to Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton, Thompson is trending toward being available after practicing on Monday. The 6-foot-5 guard led the team in scoring last year and put up 14.3 points on 50% shooting in the three games he’s played this season. Jamyron Keller (14.0), Javon Small (14.0) and Mike Marsh (10.4) are the other three double-digit scorers who were all back in the lineup last game.
Thursday’s game will also be a homecoming of sorts for Alexander, an Oklahoma City native whose second offer came from the Cowboys. Oklahoma State reached out again after he decommitted from Auburn, but he chose Creighton over both in-state schools. Even so, Alexander said he’s been to Oklahoma State’s gym “probably a hundred times,” and he’s collected upwards of 40 tickets for the game.
“Most of my teammates have already sent me all their tickets and things like that, but I can’t wait to play there,” Alexander said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Alexander is coming off a rough showing in Kansas City after a brilliant start to the season. He shot 15.4% from the field including a 1-for-16 outing in the loss. McDermott is expecting a big bounce back from the junior guard, however, and said he’s had two really good practices this week.
“Just try to play my game, play as a team,” Alexander said of his approach on Thursday. “Never really try to force anything, even coming off a bad shooting game. I know that shots are going to fall throughout the course of the season. This just happens sometimes in basketball, it’s a part of the game, but you continue to work on your game, you never force anything, try to get my teammates involved early in games like that. So it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait. It’s going to be very exciting.”
Tipoff at Gallagher Iba Arena on Thursday is set for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2 with Rich Hollenberg and Tim Welsh on the call.