Creighton players say they’ve learned their lesson, that they’re not going to fall into the trap again.
The No. 16 Bluejays host Akron on Sunday at the CenturyLink Center. The game comes three days after Creighton posted an emotional victory at Nebraska, and six days before they play at California in search of another win over a power-conference team.
That scenario sound familiar? It does to Creighton guard Grant Gibbs.
“Sounds like a trap game to me,” he said, smiling. “I think we’ve gone through that already.”
On Nov. 28, to be precise. That’s the night Boise State came to Omaha to face a Creighton team that had spent a lot of energy the previous weekend beating Wisconsin and Arizona State to win the Las Vegas Invitational. Looming on the horizon was a big game against a St. Joseph’s team that many expected would be Creighton’s toughest nonconference test.
The Broncos stormed into the CenturyLink, punched the Bluejays in the face early and carted the greatest upset in school history back to Idaho. The 83-70 loss is the only blot on Creighton’s record through the season’s first nine games.
“We learned that night that if we don’t bring it, there is a chance we can get beat,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “We can’t just rely on our talent. We have to be focused each and every day in practice.
“That was a good wake-up call for us. We would have rather have won that game, but it definitely was a reminder that if we don’t have a couple of good days of preparation, it’s going to come back and haunt us.”
The Bluejays followed up the loss to Boise with an 80-51 rout of St. Joseph’s before Thursday’s methodical 22-point win over the Huskers.
Which brings us to Sunday’s visit by Akron. The Zips are 4-2, with both of the defeats coming in overtime. Unlike Boise State, which is picked to finish near the bottom of the Mountain West, Akron is considered one of the teams to beat in the Mid-American Conference.
The Zips, the defending MAC regular-season champions, are led by 7-0 center Zeke Marshall. Creighton coach Greg McDermott calls Alex Abreu, who is averaging a team-best 12.2 points and 5.7 assists per game, a top-shelf point guard.
“They’re really talented, man, they’re good,” Gibbs said. “And we’re in a situation where we’re going to get everyone’s best shot. We’re starting to realize that more, that people are going to bring their best when they play against us.
“There’s not going to be an opportunity for us to just roll out there and get a win. We have to be totally prepared and executing, and I think guys are realizing that as we face these tough games early in the year.”
The Bluejays knew even before the season’s first tip that the target on their backs would be a big one.
“The coaches were preaching it, but especially for guys that haven’t been in this situation, you don’t realize just how hard teams are going to play against you, how well they’re going to play against you,” Gibbs said. “The young guys especially are realizing that it’s going to be a battle every night.
“We’re going to have to play our best basketball night in and night out if we want to get wins.”
Akron comes into the game with six players averaging more than 8.0 points and four averaging double figures. Marshall came into this week with more blocks (27) than 222 Division I teams. The Zips rank sixth in the nation in 3-point baskets per game (9.8).
“They play 10 or 11 guys and they like to play fast,” Greg McDermott said. “With six guys averaging between 8 and 12 points a game, there is not a particular guy you can try to take away.
“Abreu is as good of a point guard as we’ve played against, and they have a potential NBA guy in Marshall. They have a lot of pieces, and their losses came when they didn’t have a couple of their guys.”
Forwards Demetrius Treadwell and Nick Harney had to miss the season’s first three games because of a clerical error by the school’s compliance department that led to neither player being certified as an amateur before the 2011-12 season. The NCAA suspended both players for three games this season, then denied Akron’s appeal.
“They’ve only had three games with their entire lineup,” Greg McDermott said, “and they’ve won all three.”
Akron also won the last time it played Creighton. That came in the 2011 BracketBusters series when the Zips posted a 76-67 win on their home floor.
“We owe them,” Doug McDermott said, “but we know we’re going to have to be extremely focused going into the game.”
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