After a long and busy offseason, No. 8 Creighton returns to the court at CHI Health Center Omaha Tuesday night to open the 2023-24 season against Florida A&M.
The Bluejays held their dress rehearsal on Friday, topping Division II Wayne State 95-48 in an exhibition that saw plenty of newcomers make a great first impression.
However, the star of the game was junior guard Trey Alexander, who is poised to take another step forward this season as he spends more time on the ball. Alexander put up 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 from 3) with two assists and no turnovers in just 18 minutes. The 6-foot-4 guard got it done in a variety of ways — running off screens, spotting up, curling to the basket, manipulating the defense in the pick-and-roll, etcetera.
“I think it just came throughout the flow of the offense,” Alexander said. “I think my teammates were hitting me in spots that they knew I could make make shots. [Ryan Kalkbrenner] was setting good screens. They weren’t really helping as much because they were scared of Kalk to get the lob; he’s a really good lob threat, so when we have somebody like that that can make teams not really play high up on somebody, it makes your job a lot easier as a ball-handler coming off the screen. So kudos to Kalk.”
Creighton shot 42.1% from 3 overall and knocked down 11 3s in the first half alone as the Jays consistently pushed the pace and generated open looks on the perimeter with the Wildcats so focused on taking away Kalkbrenner’s opportunities in the paint. Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth put up 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting (2-of-3 from 3) and six assists in 20 minutes.
“For me personally, it was just super fun to get out there in front of fans and experience what it’s like to play Creighton basketball, and Coach Mac even told me at halftime, ‘You can play even faster, I think you can go even faster,’” Ashworth said. “That’s the joy of this offense that we have so many weapons that when we do play at high speeds and when we can be efficient playing at high speeds, it just makes us that much more versatile. When you’ve got Trey shooting 4-for-5 from 3, you’ve got Baylor [Scheierman] over 50% from 3 and then myself as well, it’s a lot of fun to be able to have that many high-level-type of shooters, and the offense kind of takes care of itself at times when we take care of the ball.”
Ten Bluejays scored including four in double figures with 17 assists and nine turnovers. Coach Greg McDermott said the unselfishness the Bluejays displayed against Wayne State is what they’ve shown on the practice court from the beginning despite incorporating eight newcomers.
“I was stepping in from a different environment and it just felt like a very naturally cohesive team,” Ashworth said. “I think that every single guy in that locker room, the first and foremost thing on their mind is winning the game, and when that’s the ultimate goal and when that’s what the focus is, I think that everything goes a lot smoother. It’s a very cohesive team and we’re very unselfish team, and you saw it tonight that there are multiple guys that could go in and create and facilitate and then also get buckets. When you’ve got high-level caliber players like that all around the floor, it just makes it very easy to hit the next guy for the shot.”
McDermott identified some defensive lapses, sub-par second-half rebounding and a few sloppy turnovers as areas for improvement, and the Jays will get a chance to make strides there on Tuesday night as the Rattlers visit the CHI.
Florida A&M went 7-22 last season and returns four rotation players led by sixth man Dimingus Stevens, a 6-foot-6 wing who averaged 8.4 points and shot 42.5% from 3. Coach Robert McCollum added eight newcomers including seven transfers from junior college or other D-I programs.
“They’re going to provide some full-court pressure, maybe a little bit of zone, things that we’re going to see once conference play rolls around,” McDermott said. “The nonconference portion of the schedule, you want to grow, you want to learn, you want to get better and you want to find out different areas that maybe that your team is exposed by the teams you play against that you can hopefully clean up before conference play begins. Bottom line, you’ve got to win; that’s the other thing. To build a strong resume, you have to take care of your business especially on your home floor.”
McDermott said he expects the Rattlers to press for 40 minutes and try to create as much chaos in the game as possible.
Tipoff on Tuesday night is set for 8 p.m. CT on FS1 with Kevin Kugler and Nick Bahe on the call.