Creighton's loss to Boise State reinforced a basic fact about the Bluejays that might have gotten lost in talk about Sweet 16s and wins against power-conference teams.
As good as Creighton can be, its margin for error remains slim.
“We're not so deeply talented that we can expect to just walk out there and beat people,” Bluejay guard Grant Gibbs said. “When we're really good is when we're executing on both ends of the floor and we're really engaged.
“When we're not doing those things, we're as average as anybody.”
Boise State came into CenturyLink Center on Wednesday and pulled off an 83-70 upset of 11th-ranked Creighton. The Bluejays allowed a team that had shot 44.3 percent from the field to make 60.4 percent of its field-goal attempts, while they never really clicked offensively.
As much as he hated to say it, Gibbs said, the outcome might have been a much-needed wake-up call for a team that might have started getting a little too full of itself.
“We know that if we don't execute and do the things that our coaching staff instills in us,” Gibbs said, “we can get beat by anybody just as we can beat anybody.”
Creighton now faces a tough rebound Saturday against St. Joseph's. The Hawks, the preseason pick to win a stacked Atlantic-10, are 4-1.
One of their wins came against a ranked Notre Dame team that Thursday held defending national champion Kentucky to 50 points in a 14-point victory at home.
The Bluejays are well aware of the threat posed by coach Phil Martelli's team. The Hawks were the only team to post a nonconference win against Creighton last season, pulling out an 80-71 victory in Philadelphia.
“St. Joe's pretty much returns every guy, and they're probably the best team we've played all year,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “We know that it's probably going to be a packed house, and we have to be ready for them.”
Martelli, too, knows that Bluejay fans are sure to turn out for the showdown between Jesuit schools that were picked to win their conferences.
“I fully anticipate an energetic crowd,” Martelli said. “I told my team to take that as a compliment. If they didn't think we were very good, they wouldn't come out and make any noise.
“Road games are always interesting, and this one comes against a team that had been sailing along until the Boise game. That's a really good team.”
Creighton, a near-unanimous pick to win the Missouri Valley Conference, opened the season with six straight victories, the last two coming against Wisconsin of the Big Ten and Arizona State of the Pac-12 in the Las Vegas Invitational.
Winning tough, physical battles on a neutral court did nothing to diminish the high expectations placed on coach Greg McDermott's third Creighton team. Then Boise State came into Omaha and stunned the Bluejays.
“I don't know if our players have fully grasped it yet that we're getting a lot of attention,” the coach said. “We're going to get everybody's best shot. As soon as you relax, someone is going to punch you in the mouth.
“Hopefully, it's just a bump in the road and not a mountain that we have to climb to get back to what we need to do. But as I told the team, we could play well on Saturday and get better. We better strap it up.”
St. Joseph's has the type of team that typically causes the Bluejays problems. Its guard can get to the rim. Its front line is agile and athletic. The Hawks are deep enough to offset some of the advantage Creighton likes to gain by running players in and out of the lineup.
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In some ways, the situation the Bluejays are facing is similar to one they encountered midway through last season's 29-win season. They opened Valley play by losing to a Missouri State team that, like Boise State, wasn't considered a contender for a conference championship.
Creighton's next game after the Missouri State loss was against an athletic Wichita State club that would go on to win the Valley regular-season championship. The Bluejays shored up the defensive deficiencies they had exhibited against Missouri State and posted a 68-61 win against the Shockers.
“I'd certainly like to get back on the right track like last year,” McDermott said. “St. Joe's is a game, for them as well as us, that could do a lot of good in March. It's a very valuable game for both teams, and we have to be ready to go.
“We've played a lot of basketball in a short period of time, and we have to find enough energy to finish this thing off.”
Creighton played four games in a seven-day period as part of the Las Vegas tournament. After traveling home Sunday, the Bluejays had a couple of practices to prepare for the Boise State game.
McDermott sensed gas was getting low in the tank and considered giving his team Thursday off.
“But that would have meant the guys would have sat around for 24 hours feeling bad about what happened against Boise,” he said. “We needed to get back to work and start preparing for St. Joe's.”
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