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No. 15 Bluejays Headed for Madison Square Garden to Face St. John’s

by Feb 23, 2024Creighton Mens Basketball

Creighton Bluejays guard Baylor Scheierman
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

No. 15 Creighton men’s basketball secured arguably the biggest regular-season win in program history on Tuesday night, toppling No. 1 UConn in front of a sold-out CHI Health Center Omaha crowd.

With the way the calendar fell, the Bluejays also got a chance to enjoy the win for an extra day or so before locking back in on game prep for the next opponent. The Jays will head to New York to take on St. John’s on Sunday for an 11 a.m. CT tipoff on CBS.

“I think the schedule-makers were our friend in this case in that it wasn’t a Wednesday where we had to go right back to practice on Thursday,” Coach Greg McDermott said. “So we had the day off Tuesday, we just did some skill work with top-minute guys yesterday and then worked everybody else out. So they’ve had a couple days to kind of recalibrate. We watched some St. John’s film yesterday and as you’re watching that film, you see what the score is — we were down nine with whatever, eight and a half, nine minutes to go, and we were down one inside of a minute of that game. So we understand how talented they are.”

St. John’s has lost eight of its last 11 games, starting with the 66-65 defeat in Omaha on Jan. 13. Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino called out his team’s toughness and then some after its collapse against Seton Hall. The Red Storm responded with a win at Georgetown, though the Hoyas put up a fight in the five-point loss.

“I wasn’t surprised,” McDermott said. “That team, they lost the Seton Hall game but they had a 19-point lead. They lost to Marquette but they were up double digits in the second half. If you’re talented enough to do that, you’re not far away from putting it all together. So I think they’re dangerous in that regard. Obviously, Pitino has been at this a long time, he’s forgotten more basketball than I’ll ever know, so he knows what he’s doing and obviously he’s one of the best motivators in the game. So I’m not surprised that came out and played pretty well against Georgetown.”

St. John’s (15-12, 7-9 Big East) had a chance to win the game at the buzzer in its first meeting with Creighton, but the final shot didn’t fall. Only five teams have managed to keep Creighton under 70 points in 16 Big East games thus far, and the Red Storm is one of them.

“It was just a dog fight,” Baylor Scheierman said. “Obviously they’re a really physical team and offensively, they do a really great job of crashing the offensive glass and kind of making it a mud fight in there. And then defensively, they obviously switch up defenses a lot to try to disrupt the rhythm of the game. We’re going to have to be locked in and they’re fighting for their life, so we’re going to have to be on our A game.”

St. John’s is sixth nationally in offensive rebound rate, corralling 38.7% of its misses. Big man Joel Soriano leads the way at 14.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game (including 3.8 per game on the offensive end). Point guard Daniss Jenkins is leading the team in scoring in conference play at 15.8 per game and is averaging 14.3 points and 5.4 assists overall this season. Jordan Dingle (10.8 points per game) and RJ Luis (10.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game) are averaging double figures as well.

“We have to handle their pressure,” McDermott said. “That’s what they do, they come at you in droves and you have to be ready for it. They’re one of the best mid-range-shooting teams in the country, and that’s what our defense forces people to do, so it puts us in a little bit of a predicament in terms of some of our coverages and how do we adjust that if we’re having trouble with it. So part of the reason that game was as competitive as it was is St. John’s kind of solves what we do defensively and what the core of our defense is, because they have so many guys that are that are effective in that mid-range.”

This year’s game is taking place at Madison Square Garden, providing the Bluejays a preview of what they’ll see when the Big East Tournament tips off at the Garden in a few weeks. McDermott said the team plans to stay at the same hotel they’ll use for the tournament and establishing a routine will be valuable come the postseason.

“I think just getting, obviously, acclimated with the surroundings and how it is,” Scheierman said. “Last year, I didn’t get to play [at Madison Square Garden] until the Big East Tournament, and this year obviously, we’re fortunate enough to get to play there this close to the Big East Tournament. I think the guys that haven’t played there before, it’ll be a good kind of warm-up for the Big East Tournament.”

Creighton will ride a four-game winning streak into Sunday’s game and is half a game back of Marquette for second place in the Big East standings. Per, Creighton has performed like the third-best team in the country over the past two weeks — ninth in offensive efficiency and 28th in defensive efficiency. After some early and midseason struggles, Creighton is playing its best basketball of the season down the stretch.

“We have some older guys,” McDermott said. “Steven certainly has found his groove. It took a little while like it has with most of our guys that are new to our program. But I’ve got some veteran guys in Baylor and Trey, Kalk, Bello, Steven now, that have played a lot of college basketball. We’re doing a good job of managing their minutes in practice to make sure they’re fresh for games. Ben [McNair] and Jeremy [Anderson] have been terrific in that regard and it’s allowed them to play big minutes and still be very effective while other teams are running guys in and out. Our guys are playing a lot of minutes and their efficiency numbers are not dropping as a result of that.

“You always hope that you’re building for February and March. You can still get have a bad game. We had an awful game in the Big East Tournament against Xavier last year. It happens once in a while. You hope it doesn’t happen this time of year, but the reality of it is there’s always a chance of that.”

Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas will be on the call for CBS on Sunday.

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