>> Video Below: Highlights, postgame press conference
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Creighton banked a win Sunday that could pay dividends in about three months.
The No. 16 Bluejays coupled a 30-point afternoon from Doug McDermott with solid contributions down the lineup in posting a 77-61 victory against Akron in front of 16,310 (paid attendance) at CenturyLink Center.
“This was a really good win,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I’m not sure our fans understand what a good win it is. I think come March, it will be evident. I was scared to death of this team coming in.”
For good reason. The Zips are expected to contend for the Mid-American Conference championship, as they have annually under coach Keith Dambrot. His teams have failed to win 20 games just once in his first eight years at the school, and made NCAA tournament appearances in 2009 and 2011.
The Bluejays won’t be surprised if Akron finds itself in the 2013 tournament despite a 4-3 start (with two overtime losses).
“They have length and size inside, and they have shooters on the outside,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “When you have that kind of combination, you have a chance to win a lot of ballgames.
“We know we’re going to see Akron in somebody’s bracket come March, and today was a really good win for our team.”
The Bluejays won in part by negating some of the things the Zips do well. Akron came into the game sixth nationally in 3-pointers per game, averaging around 10 and making at least seven in every contest.
Creighton held the Zips to four on 17 attempts (23.5 percent) from beyond the arc.
“Coach told us earlier this week about how they reminded him of Boise,” said guard Grant Gibbs, referring to the only team that has beaten the Bluejays in their 9-1 start. “They have a lot of weapons, and their little guard can really get in there and find people.
“We did a lot better job of locking onto their shooters, and that kind of carried us defensively.”
Creighton also owned advantages in three categories that Akron had been winning.
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The Zips had more assists and fewer turnovers than their opponents in each of their first six games. Against Creighton, they finished with 14 assists and 11 turnovers to 17 and 8 for the Bluejays.
Creighton also outrebounded a team that came into the game with a plus-1.6 margin on the glass. That advantage didn’t come easily: The Zips held a 17-11 edge on the boards before the Bluejays toughened up.
Four Jays — Gregory Echenique, Avery Dingman, Gibbs and McDermott — grabbed at least six rebounds in helping Creighton finish with a 38-30 edge. Greg McDermott said Echenique’s play in the second half was particularly key.
The 6-foot-9 center played eight minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Often matched up against 7-footer Zeke Marshall, Echenique scored all 10 of his points and grabbed all seven of his rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
“I thought Zeke outplayed Gregory in the first half and Gregory dominated in the second half,” the coach said. “Even though he got a couple of fouls again in the second half, he stayed aggressive.
“He went after the offensive glass and was a presence on the defensive end.”
Marshall scored 10 of his 12 points in the first 20 minutes to help Akron hang close to the Bluejays, who, despite Doug McDermott’s 20 points, were having trouble getting separation until near the end of the half.
The Zips were within 32-29 after a three-point play by Pat Forsythe with 3:19 to play. Creighton then closed the half with an 11-2 run that came on four free throws by McDermott, two baskets by Will Artino and a 3-pointer by Dingman.
The Bluejays pushed their lead to 15 on a dunk by Echenique with 16:55 to play before Akron trimmed its deficit to 53-44 at the 13:20 mark. Creighton then hit the Zips with a 15-3 burst during the next four minutes and was able to cruise from there.
McDermott had eight of his points in the decisive run, making two of his six 3-pointers during the spurt. He finished the game 6 of 8 from beyond the arc and 10 of 15 overall in matching his season-high scoring total.
“We had a hard time with McDermott,” Dambrot said. “They weren’t messing around. They knew we beat them the last time, and they didn’t like what happened in the Boise game. They came at us, and we didn’t respond when they made those runs. We just made mistakes.”
The Bluejays supported McDermott’s big game with 10 points from Echenique, nine from Manigat, eight from Dingman and seven apiece from Austin Chatman and Gibbs. Nick Harney led Akron with 14 points.
Chatman and Gibbs also combined for 13 assists without a turnover.
“You’re going to win a hell of a lot of games when that happens,” Dambrot said.
Creighton also will win a lot when McDermott turns in the kind of performance he did against the Zips. His effort was highlighted by a couple of first-half plays he made against Marshall that undoubtedly will show up on the postseason video.
The first came when he dribbled between his legs and popped a 3-pointer over the 7-footer. On the next possession, McDermott drove for a layup after a spectacular spin move left Marshall flat-footed.
“I felt really comfortable out there,” McDermott said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much. When I saw the 7-footer got switched on to me, I just tried to isolate him.
“I’ve worked on my ballhandling as much as I can, and it’s probably starting to pay off.”
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