Creighton forward Ethan Wragge smiled sheepishly when asked Friday night when was the last time he blocked three shots in a game.
“Maybe ninth or 10th grade,” Wragge said.
Do you remember who that came against?
“Maybe my brother,” Wragge replied.
Wragge had a dozen blocks in his first 78 games as a Bluejay. In 13 minutes of Friday's 71-51 victory against North Texas, Wragge blocked a career-high three shots, the first two coming on back-to-back possessions in the first half.
“They were just throwing it into my hands,” he said.
Modesty aside, Wragge played a key role in vindicating Creighton's offseason work to improve its defense. He helped inside with the defensive effort on North Texas star Tony Mitchell.
Mitchell finished with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting, but the Bluejays made him work for all of his points.
“I was excited for the challenge of playing against Tony Mitchell all week,” Wragge said. “I knew I was going to be on him some, and I didn't want to let him bully us around.”
Starting center Gregory Echenique drew a lot of the assignment of trying to slow Mitchell. Doug McDermott and Wragge also spent time defending him, and Creighton often doubled-teamed the North Texas star when he got the ball down low.
“We tried to squeeze things a little bit and make it tougher to get it into the post,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We wanted to make Tony's catches tough in there, and I thought for the most part we were able to do that.”
Wragge has built his reputation on his shot-making ability in past seasons with the Bluejays. He's a career 41.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc, and he made 1 of 3 3-pointers against the Mean Green and finished with four points.
Friday night, it was the shot-blocking display that was all the rage with his teammates.
“We can't expect three blocks out of him every game, but he can bring it with his defense and rebounding,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “He played well tonight.”
Points for Gibbs' trick
For the second time in three games, Gibbs resorted to some trickery to pick up an easy basket.
Early in the game, he was inbounding the ball under Creighton's basket. He saw North Texas in a zone defense, and the closest defender with his back to him.
So Gibbs bounced the inbounds pass off the defender, retrieved it and scored an easy layup. He made a similar play last March against Alabama.
Mitchell, McDermott meet again
Mitchell and Doug McDermott were teammates on a United State national team two summers ago. They are considered two of the top seven or eight players in the country this season.
Friday night's meeting between the two was close to a draw. McDermott scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Mitchell finished with 18 and 7, and he downplayed what had drawn a lot of attention in the pregame buildup for the opener.
“It wasn't a one-on-one matchup,” he said. “This was Creighton against North Texas. I wasn't looking at it like that. I just wanted to win the game. We didn't' do that tonight.”
Mitchell's effectiveness was curtailed in the second half because of foul trouble. He picked up his third early in the half and his fourth with 13 minutes to play.
“It doesn't matter how I played,” he said. “We still lost the game.”
Benford praises CU efficiency
North Texas coach Tony Benford praised Creighton for being one of the most efficient offensive teams he's seen in his 21 years of Division I coaching.
One thing that wasn't efficient about the Bluejays' game was their 3-point shooting. Creighton made 5 of 18 shots (27.8 percent) from beyond the arc. Last season, the Bluejays made 42.4 percent of their 3-point attempts to finish third nationally in that statistical category.
“I'm obviously very pleased to win a game when we didn't shoot it well,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
Creighton did shoot 50 percent from the field and converted 19 of 30 attempts (63.3 percent) from inside the arc. Outside of it, Avery Dingman made 2 of his 3-point shots but no other Bluejay converted half of his.
“We were very unlike Creighton in our 3-point percentage,” McDermott said. “I thought we had good looks at the basket but there was probably some first-game jitters and nervousness.”
Bits and pieces
Creighton led for all but eight seconds of the game. Mitchell gave North Texas its only lead with a basket at 11:28 left in the first half, but Austin Chatman scored eight seconds later to start a 6-0 run for the Bluejays. … Creighton improved to 80-15 in openers and has won 15 of its last 16. … Doug McDermott's 21 points allowed him to tie Nate Funk's record of 721 at CenturyLink Center. It was McDermott's 31st game in which he scored 20 points or more, and his double-double was the 21st of his career. … Chatman's 11 points in his debut as Creighton's starting point guard was one shy of his career high. … Paid attendance for the game was 17,139 and eclipsed the Creighton record of 16,107 for an opening-night game against New Mexico in 2008.