No. 8 Creighton put on an offensive clinic in the second half to out-run Iowa in a Gavitt Games matchup at CHI Health Center Omaha Tuesday.
The 3-0 Bluejays took down the Hawkeyes 92-84 in a game that didn’t start until after 9:15 CT, topping 90 points and shooting better than 50% from the field for the third time as five players scored in double figures.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
The defense Creighton employs is based on simple math. It is designed to chase opponents off the 3-point line and funnel drivers to the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year waiting at the rim, leaving the mid-range as the most open spot on the floor.
Most teams don’t have great mid-range shooters, and Coach Greg McDermott is willing to bet that even the ones that do won’t be able to outscore his team with a steady dose of that shot.
In the first half, Iowa center Ben Krikke lit Creighton up from mid-range, scoring most of his 16 points from there. As a team, Iowa shot 9-of-17 on non-paint 2s. On the other end, Creighton was ice cold, shooting an uncharacteristic 5-of-18 from 3.
Reversion to the mean hit in a big way to start the second half. The Bluejays made 15 of their first 17 shots including 5-of-6 from deep and tossed in a pair of free throws to build an 80-63 lead 11 minutes into the half. To reiterate: Creighton scored on 15 of its first 19 possessions in the second half, totaling 37 points in just 11 minutes to pull away.
“Those are video game numbers,” McDermott said. “To Iowa’s credit, we shot twice as many 3s as they did; they want to shoot 3s, we want to shoot 3s. We had almost double, we had 20 more points in the paint than they did. So what does that mean? It means we forced them into a lot of mid-range shots and they made a lot of mid-range shots. Congratulations. Sometimes that’s going to happen.
“I thought we did a good job the last six or seven minutes of the first half of changing our coverage a little bit to get back to Krikke. To their credit, Fran [McCaffery] made some really nice adjustments coming out of halftime, the way he moved them around where it was really hard to get back to him. We try to force teams into mid-range shots, it’s not a secret, and tonight they made them. Obviously, we had to score 92 to win.”
Creighton took the air out of the ball a bit at that point and managed to run out the clock, though it got dicey late with some missed free throws and empty possessions as Iowa cut the deficit down to five with just under 90 seconds to play.
Iowa still shot 8-of-13 on non-paint 2s after halftime and Krikke finished with 24 points, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Jays. As McDermott said, Creighton has some things to clean up defensively as Iowa shot 50% from the field overall, but the foundation is solid as we’ve seen the past two years and there are few teams that will likely be able to keep up with Creighton’s high-powered offense for 40 minutes this season.
I wrote about Trey Alexander after each of the first two games and I have to do so again as he put up his third straight 20-point outing — and then some. The junior guard fell one assist shy of the first points-rebounds-assists triple-double in Creighton history, finishing with 23, 11 and nine.
“He’s good with the ball in his hands and the good thing for me is he’s versatile enough that he can play with the ball or without the ball,” McDermott said. “He’s got size to see over some stuff; he made some great reads in ball screens, made some great reads in transition and he gets 11 rebounds and almost a triple-double with nine assists.”
Six of those assists came after halftime as Creighton ran everything through him with Steven Ashworth struggling a bit and McDermott riding Francisco Farabello more off the bench. Alexander played the entire 20 minutes after halftime and was at the center of Creighton’s decisive run.
“I think it’s just all part of winning,” Alexander said. “I think just playing the way I know how, just being a basketball player. It really doesn’t have to come down to me trying to play-make, it’s just me making the basketball play. Obviously guys are making shots if I’m going to have nine assists, so kudos to my teammates. They were making shots when I passed it to them and kudos to Mac for putting me in the right position.”
As good as he was, Alexander left some points on the floor as he shot 9-of-19 including 1-of-4 from 3, and he missed a few contested shots at the rim that he had been making so far this season. The stat line very easily could have looked even gaudier than it does now, and he threw down a big dunk for the third straight game as well.
Through three games, he’s averaging 21.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 60% from the floor and 100% from the line, and he has clearly declared his candidacy for Big East Player of the Year, and perhaps even more.
Big-Time Bench Boost
Last season, Creighton’s bench had more games with zero points (four) than it did games with 20-plus against high-major teams. The reserve unit averaged just 8.7 points per game in 32 games against high-major or NCAA Tournament teams. The high was 29 against St. John’s.
On Tuesday, Farabello, Fredrick King and Isaac Traudt combined to score 32 points in 50 minutes off the bench, providing the team with a big boost at times when some of the starters weren’t playing their best.
Farabello, the fifth-year senior, poured in 14 points on a Creighton career-high 25 minutes, shooting 4-of-6 from the field including 3-of-4 from 3. One of the highlights of the game was Farabello’s four-point play that gave Creighton a 27-25 lead after the Jays had fallen behind 22-15 early.
“Coming off the bench, I always try to bring whatever we are missing,” Farabello said. “Especially seeing it from the outside, I think it’s easier to see what we’re missing. It was just a play. I think it was actually Trey that gave me the ball. Every time he passes, he trusts our teammates, and not only him, but everybody just encourages each other, like ‘knock it down’ or whatever. So they give me the confidence, the coaching staff gives me the confidence. It felt good and I’m glad it gave us a little spark that we were missing.”
Sophomore Fredrick King had one of the best games of his career as well, putting up 12 points and five rebounds in just under 13 minutes of play. He shot 5-of-6 from the field and converted two and-ones while giving Creighton some big minutes after Ryan Kalkbrenner got into a bit of foul trouble in the first half.
Redshirt freshman Isaac Traudt went 2-for-3 from deep, hitting one in each half, and chipped in. aboard and an assist in 13 minutes. Even true freshman Josiah Dotzler, who only played three seconds after checking in for Alexander on the last play of the first half, stole the ball and nearly made a halfcourt shot at the buzzer.
“We have faith in those guys to come in and do their jobs and I think that Bello came in and gave us an instant spark, Isaac came in and did what he did,” Alexander said. “For those guys to come in and really just perfect their role and really just give us a boost off the bench is big for us because that depth is going to help us down the road and we know that we’re going to have to put some trust in these guys.
“For them to showcase that in the game where we didn’t play our best, but they were playing very well, it just showcases how hard they worked and how much they want to help the team win.”