The one-on-one time Greg McDermott spent with Creighton center Gregory Echenique paid big dividends in Wednesday's 77-60 win over Alabama-Birmingham.
McDermott invited Echenique to the office on Monday to watch some video of the senior's play in the season-opening win over North Texas.
“I just didn't think Gregory was being himself in that game,” McDermott said. “He wasn't as active. He got frustrated at times when he didn't catch the ball inside and maybe didn't work as hard as he should after that point.
“It's difficult as a post player because you think you're open, but you can't see what's going on behind you. It's easy to get frustrated when you think the ball should be delivered and it isn't. My message to him was just play hard.”
Echenique did just that against the Blazers, notching the 12th double-double of his career in impressive fashion. He did not miss a shot in scoring 13 points, making all five of his field-goal attempts and his three free-throw attempts. He matched his career high with 16 rebounds. He blocked four shots and had a steal.
“He's a big boy and he was determined,” UAB coach Jerod Haase said. “We've talked about how we have to be tenacious with our rebounding, but he was a man in there. He did a great job rebounding.”
The 6-foot-9 Echenique had to maneuver for his points inside through the strong double-teams the Blazers threw at him and teammate Doug McDermott.
“They were right there whenever I caught it, and it was hard making moves,” Echenique said. “At the beginning, I got some offensive boards to try to get going.
“I just tried to get rebounds and be productive. Teams are going to double Doug and I and dare us to try to beat them from outside. I was just trying to be patient, because eventually they were going to get tired.”
Bluejays step up as McDermott struggles
It was a frustrating night for Doug McDermott, who put himself on the bench seven minutes into the game by picking up two quick fouls. He never could get things going when he returned in the second half, finishing with five points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field.
The junior All-American came into the game with the country's third-longest string of double-figure scoring games (37). The five points were the fewest McDermott scored in a game since St. Joseph's held him scoreless in the ninth game of his freshman season.
The fact that the Bluejays never panicked when their star player was having trouble proved to be a big key to the victory.
“Doug is a great part of our team, but we all know that we're not a one-player team,” Echenique said. “He does great things for us, but we all know that when it's time to step up, we have to do that.
“I thought we did a great job of filling in for him, and I know he'll be back ready for Sunday.”
Greg McDermott said his son's off game might actually have benefited the Bluejays' development.
“Now that it's over and we won, I'm glad it happened,” the coach said. “Other guys have to step up, and I think it's good for our team to know we can survive without Doug. When we practice, Doug is just one of the guys in my eyes and his teammates' eyes.
“He's an important part of this team that has a job to do. If he's not able to do that, someone else had better step up in his absence. Tonight, that happened.”
Creighton's depth wears down Blazers
Creighton held UAB to five points in the final 11:10 of the game in turning a two-point deficit into a 17-point win.
Haase credited Creighton's depth with helping the Bluejays turn the tide.
“Tactically, I don't think they changed anything,” he said. “They wore us down a little bit.”
The Bluejays' defensive effort down the stretch might have been a result of several factors coming together, guard Grant Gibbs said.
“Our pace wore into them, and we started getting a little crisper offensively,” Gibbs said. “We started making better decisions, and our effort got better defensively.
“We started doing a better job of taking away their open looks and made them work a little bit.”
Bits and pieces
Creighton finished with a decided 35-19 edge in bench scoring. UAB got 16 of those points from Isiah Jones, who led his team in scoring. … Creighton has won seven games in the past two seasons in which it has rallied from a 10-point deficit. The Bluejays also improved to 22-14 in games at the CenturyLink Center in which they've trailed by 10 or more points. … Doug McDermott became the arena's all-time leading scorer with 740 points. He entered the game tied with Nate Funk (2002-07) with 735 points. … Creighton has won 40 straight regular-season home games in the month of November and 39 straight nonconference home games against unranked foes.
— Steven Pivovar