No. 10 Creighton exorcised some demons from NCAA Tournaments past by putting up triple digits against Central Michigan on Saturday afternoon.
The Bluejays topped the Chippewas 109-64 as all 11 available players found the scoring column and six scored in double figures.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Let it Fly (Over and Over Again)
Heading into Saturday’s game, Creighton was attempting 31.3 3-pointers per game, the highest of the Greg McDermott era by a significant margin. The Jays were connecting on 12.3 of those, a 39.2% hit rate. Creighton was 22nd in the country in percentage and third in the nation in percentage of field goal attempts from beyond the arc.
Most of those numbers are going up after the blowout win over the Chippewas. Creighton shot 15-of-31 from 3 with five different players hitting at least one, including three with four-plus. That’s with Baylor Scheierman’s streak of games with three made 3-pointers ending at eight as he went 1-for-2 and Steven Ashworth missing all five of his looks.
Creighton shot 11-of-21 from deep in the first half alone, nearly hitting its full-game average for makes in the first 20 minutes. The Bluejays gave up 36 points in the first half and still led by 20.
The impact of knock-down 3-point shooting extends beyond just the extra point those shots provide. As Central Michigan extended its defense to try to take away 3s early in the second half, the Jays got the ball inside to Ryan Kalkbrenner for three buckets at the rim in the first two minutes.
That’s the design of this team: crowd the 3-point shooters, Kalkbrenner will feast at the rim. Send extra bodies at the 7-footer (which most teams have done this season), the shooters will let it fly. In addition to the 15 3-pointers, Creighton shot 26-32 (81.3%) inside the arc.
“You hit a bunch of 3s and now they’re worried about the 3s, so early in the second half you’re able to attack that part of the game because they stretched out on Mason [Miller] and Isaac [Traudt],” Coach Greg McDermott said. “Baylor they’re going to guard, Steven they’re going to guard. Our guys made some good reads when they kind of adjusted their defense based on our 3-point shooting.”
Central Michigan is bottom-50 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. The buckets won’t come so easily the rest of the season, but there’s still something to be said about this team’s ability to make shots, and early indications are it has a chance to go down as the most prolific 3-point shooting team McDermott has had in Omaha.
“We’ve had some in the past, some teams that can really shoot it,” McDermott said. “This team probably stands apart in some ways because of the number of guys that can shoot it. With Kalk feeling more comfortable shooting 3s now, the starting five can shoot it, and then you bring [Francisco] Farabello off the bench that can really shoot it, and Traudt. We have a lot of guys that can shoot it. We have confidence in them and they have confidence in each other.”
The biggest question mark with Creighton’s lineup heading into the year was the power forward spot with a redshirt sophomore who played 9.0 minutes per game in 2022-23 and two redshirt freshmen holding down the spot after Arthur Kaluma’s departure.
Through nine games, Greg McDermott has to be thrilled with the production he’s gotten from that spot. On Saturday, Mason Miller and Isaac Traudt had both tied or set a new career high in scoring by halftime.
Miller recorded his first double-digit scoring game as a Bluejay with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting including 4-of-5 from deep with a four-point play. He added five boards in 24 minutes.
Traudt played just 12 minutes off the bench but led Creighton with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting including 5-of-6 from 3 with his own four-point play. McDermott said he’s probably made the most progress of anyone in the rotation since the first day of practice.
“I feel way more comfortable,” Traudt said. “When I got here in the summer especially I just felt clueless a lot of the time. I wasn’t used to playing free basketball or anything like that. It definitely took me a while and I’m still obviously not all the way there yet, but I’m definitely feeling more comfortable.”
Jasen Green made an impact when he got in the game in the second half as well, converting both of his shot attempts at the rim and grabbing three boards in nine minutes.
Miller is now shooting 58.3% from 3 on the season while Traudt is at 51.6%. Together they’re averaging 14.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. When teams load up too much on the team’s stars, these guys are making them pay.
“Obviously when you have that kind of shooting ability with a couple guys at that spot, when you have to figure out Ashworth and Alexander and Baylor, and then ‘OK, who’s going to guard those four-men that can really shoot it?’” McDermott said. “Not many teams have that many guys that are that good defensively. Every time somebody made a mistake, those passers made them pay.”
Creighton missed an opportunity earlier in the nonconference against Texas Southern to put the opponent away early and get the young reserves valuable playing time. That wasn’t the case on Saturday.
Creighton led by 20 at halftime and pushed the lead to 30 less than five minutes into the second half. It hit 40 before the 7-minute mark. That meant plenty of playing time for the bench.
Trey Alexander was the only starter who topped 30 minutes, and he just barely did so. Scheierman and Steven Ashworth played 26 minutes apiece, Miller 24 and everyone else less than 20. Even so, the team’s stars put up impressive stat lines.
Scheierman had 13 points on 4-of-5 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line, nine assists, six rebounds and no turnovers. Alexander added 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and also didn’t turn the ball over. Ryan Kalkbrenner didn’t miss a shot, scoring 15 points and assisting two 3-pointers while passing Marcuses Foster and Zegarowski to move into a tie for 21st on Creighton’s career scoring list.
Fredrick King was the sixth double-digit scorer, pouring in 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and five boards in 19 minutes. Francisco Farabello dished out five assists with a bucket in his 19 minutes.
Josiah Dotzler scored six points with a 3 and a tough finish at the rim in 10 minutes, though he also had four of the team’s nine turnovers. Even that can be valuable for a freshman as a learning experience and something to correct on tape.
Johnathan Lawson brought up the rear at seven minutes, but he still made them count with a three-point play on a smart back-cut.
“That film is valuable for guys like Josiah, Jasen, Johnathan, Fredrick, guys that may or may not play as much,” McDermott said. “To play extended minutes and be able to have that film to watch and to learn and to grow, it’s all part of the process of maturing, getting better as a player and getting more comfortable with what you’re doing.”
There are only three teams remaining on the schedule currently outside the top 100 in KenPom, though two of them are conference foes Creighton will play twice each in DePaul and Georgetown. The other is UNLV, who Creighton plays on Wednesday.
Creighton’s reserves didn’t get many chances to see the court a year ago with how difficult Creighton’s nonconference was. Saturday was a chance to give the underclassmen quality in-game reps, which should in term help the team down the line.