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No. 19 Bluejays Hitting Road for Tough Two-Game Stretch

by Feb 6, 2024Creighton Mens Basketball

Creighton Bluejays guard Trey Alexander #23 drives to the basket past Providence Friars guard Devin Carter #22 during at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, NE January 6rth 2024. Photo by Eric Francis
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

No. 19 Creighton men’s basketball ended its recent home stand on a sour note, and now the Jays will hit the road for a tough two-game stretch looking to get back on track.

Creighton will head to Providence on Wednesday for a 7:30 p.m. CT tipoff on FS2. Dave Sims and Donny Marshall will call the game.

The Bluejays allowed a season-high 99 points in the loss to Butler as the Bulldogs shot 59.1% from 3 with 13 makes, three more than any other Creighton opponent this season. They also shot 15-of-26 in the lane outside the restricted area, where Creighton’s defense is designed to funnel opposing shooters.

Prior to Monday’s practice, Coach Greg McDermott shared what he learned about his team’s defensive effort from breaking down the Butler game film.

“We probably didn’t make many more mistakes than we would in a typical game, but in a game like that, that just really magnified,” McDermott said. “Butler displayed one of the best tough-shot-making games that I’ve ever been part of. Analytically we chart all that stuff, we have companies that help us; they made 8-out-of-14 closely guarded 3-point shots, which that’s what we’re trying to make them shoot. So you have to tip your hat to them; they shot it extremely well. It’s just unfortunate that we burned such a good offensive performance ourselves and came out of it with a loss.”

Despite the lights-out shooting from Butler, Creighton still had numerous chances down the stretch to tie or take the lead. Trey Alexander had the ball in his hands for three of those opportunities and went 0-for-2 from 3 with a turnover.

“He’s prepared himself for that situation,” McDermott said. “He was in the gym early this morning getting extra work, and so he’s not afraid of the work. Those repetitions, that’s why you’re confident in those situations, because you spend the time. Trey certainly has spent the time, not just this year, but during his career.”

Alexander admitted he tore his jersey in frustration at the end of the game, but he quickly moved on afterwards. He was ready for practice the next day and is looking forward to getting the ball in the same situation again.

“Oh yeah, 10 out of 10 games, I’m ready for that situation,” Alexander said. “I know that Mac’s going to trust me down the stretch for sure and I’ll take those shots any night.”

Alexander certainly delivered down the stretch the first time Creighton (7-4 in Big East play, 16-6 overall) played against Providence. From here until the NCAA Tournament, every game the Bluejays play will be a rematch, providing a different kind of challenge than the first half of the conference season.

“You take what you did well in the first game, you try to anticipate what maybe they’re going to do different because of what you did well, and then there are things you see defensively that they may have done that we probably didn’t make the right read and we’ve got to make sure the guys are ready for that,” McDermott said. “But it’s hard, neither team really gets many easy baskets, I think, the second time around because you’re able to kind of take away your pet plays from one another. But obviously [Devin] Carter is playing as well as anybody in the conference and the way he’s elevated his game since Bryce Hopkins’s injury is very impressive.”

Creighton beat Providence 69-60 in Omaha on Jan. 6, the Friars’ first game after losing second-leading scorer Bryce Hopkins to a season-ending injury. Providence is 3-5 since losing Hopkins against Seton Hall on Jan. 3 and is coming off a 68-50 loss at Villanova on Sunday that saw the Friars (14-8, 5-6) shoot 29.4% from the field.

Carter is averaging 18.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals while shooting 37.5% from 3 as his breakout offensive season has continued in Hopkins’ absence. He’s scoring 21.4 per game in conference play. Big man Josh Oduro has also had a strong season at 15.1 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 55.8% from the field, though Ryan Kalkbrenner shut him down during the first meeting with Creighton.

The loss of Hopkins has been a big blow for Providence’s offense, but the Friars’ defense has remained strong (ninth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency overall, though that has slipped to fifth in the Big East in conference-only games).

Creighton has lost its last two games at Amica Mutual Pavillion (otherwise known as the AMP). The Jays’ last win at Providence came in a 67-65 contest on Jan. 2, 2021. Kalkbrenner is the only current Bluejay who played in that game. The Friars are 11-2 at home this season with the losses coming to Seton Hall (when Hopkins suffered his injury) and Xavier.

“You just can’t let the crowd really get into it,” Alexander said of playing at the AMP. “I think that they feed off of their crowd. Their crowd is very rowdy. My freshman year I got some beer thrown in my face. It’s just keeping their crowd out of it. I think that’s the biggest thing with them. I feel like they’ve been playing some good basketball lately and I know that regardless of what their record is that the AMP is going to be crazy, so I can’t wait to play there and get my first win.”

McDermott said the best way to prevent the home crowd from making a difference is steady play. The Jays can’t afford to let the Friars string together runs and get into an offensive rhythm. Key to that will be the play of Creighton’s lead guards, Steven Ashworth and Alexander.

“I think going into different road environments, especially the two that we’ve got coming up, you’ve got to be able to maintain the pace of the game and then also control the flow of that,” Ashworth said. “Whether we’re on a run, they’re on a run, being able to either ramp things up or settle things down as a point guard, I think, is a huge key in order to make sure that we come out with the result that we want on Wednesday and Saturday night.”

Creighton will remain on the road after the Providence game ahead of its rematch with Xavier on Saturday. The Bluejays beat the Musketeers 85-78 in Omaha on Jan. 23 but have dropped three straight at the Cintas Center. Creighton is 5-3 in road games so far this season and will look to carry that success forward this week.

“I just think everybody has that road win mentality,” Alexander said. “I think that everybody wants those road wins, we know how much those road wins can mean for us come tournament time. So for us to just be in a hostile environment, I think we kind of feed off of it as well. I know myself and Baylor [Scheierman] and Kalk, we love road games. Probably not so much of two road stretches in a row, but we definitely love the road games.”

Saturday’s game at Xavier is scheduled for an 11:30 a.m. tipoff on FOX.

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