Published Friday, November 9, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 12:58 am
Shatel: Jays pass opening-night test with flying colors

For the record, Grant Gibbs wasn't winking. He had a nasty purple bruise under his right eye, courtesy of a flying elbow caught in the line of duty.

Nov. 9, and the senior was already in midseason form.

So were his teammates.

The schedule said it was the opener. Has there been a better one? The largest crowd (17,139) for a Creighton opener rocked early and often. The Jays beat an athletic team that could go places later by 20. The head coach struggled to find complaints.

Turnovers in the first half. Rebounding in the second half. And the 3s weren't going in.

Tell you what the Jays need to work on: their 25-foot shots at the halftime buzzer. Gibbs' make was called off because he was just late.

The Jays were right on time. That's the take-away from this relatively easy opening night.

You don't calculate RPIs on Nov. 9. But conventional wisdom in the college hoops world is that North Texas is going to get better, going to win a bunch and be one of those mid-majors that sneaks into the top 40, maybe top 30 of the RPI.

Who knows? That's for slide rules smarter than me.

Here's what I do know: The Jays are expected to go places, be somebody this year. Their nonconference schedule is not loaded with RPI vitamins. This was one of those games that could help.

Anything can happen on opening night, so most schools eat their dessert first on opening night. Creighton took a game against a team nobody will play, a dangerous team with an NBA lotto prospect in Tony Mitchell.

“I thought this was a good idea when I scheduled it,” said CU coach Greg McDermott. “This week (as the game got closer), I thought it was a terrible idea.”

It was a great idea. With so much expected, CU needed to feel urgency, needed to jump out of the gate.

The Jays came out flying, came out rebounding against a long and tall bunch, came out playing defense. They could have shot better. But that's nit-picking. With this team, you don't worry about the shots.

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That CU answered the opening bell like it was mid-Valley season is a sign that this team might, in fact, be ready to handle what's ahead, and what's expected.

“Now that it's behind us, I'm glad we played this,” McDermott said. “We're going to get better because of this. Athletically, top to bottom, they're long, they've got a lot going for them. Down the road, this is going to be a big game for us.”

The thing that should make Creightonians feel good is the defense. Last year's team struggled to get stops. Last night's team didn't.

The plan was to double-team Mitchell and switch up the help so the sophomore didn't know where the next defender might come from. They forced the Mean Green's 3-point shooters to drive.

Mitchell, who has the goods, had 18 points and a few highlights. But he got into foul trouble early in the second half as Gregory Echenique and Doug McDermott took turns on him.

The best news about the defense is that the Jays actually executed the plan. No, seriously.

“That's who we are going to have to be,” coach McDermott said. “Zero in on what we have to do.”

Why did the Jays decide to follow the game plan last night? Maturity?

“Tired of being scored on,” Gibbs said. “I suppose you could say maturity, too.”

There were some new looks. Echenique, down 10 pounds to a svelte 260, lost weight but plays bigger; he had two blocks and held his ground against the physical North Texans. Ethan Wragge, sporting a full beard, looks like he's 35 and thinks he's an NBA center. He had three blocks.

For NBA scouts keeping score at courtside, Doug Mac flashed his game: 21 points, 11 rebounds and was 8 for 8 from the line. He popped a 3-pointer, but mostly he was inside, mixing it up pretty good. The scouts had to like that. Certainly, his coach and fans did.

Opening night is for potential and the Jays showed that, too. Austin Chatman looks like the next floor general, and he's going to have a nifty sidekick in freshman Andre Yates, who motored around and through the lane in 13 minutes. Will Artino looks more physical. Avery Dingman hit back-to-back 3s. They need to get the ball inside to Echenique more, but there are so many answers on this team, sometimes it may just be a matter of whose turn it is.

“We had more of a sense of urgency because of who we were playing,” Gibbs said. “We didn't have a lot of time to get our feet wet. This was a good win.”

With that, he went off into the night, presumably to work on that halftime buzzer shot.

Contact the writer:


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>> Video: See Creighton-North Texas game highlights:

>> Video: Creighton coach Greg McDermott after the game:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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