Greg McDermott applauds what Austin Chatman has accomplished this season because the Creighton coach knew exactly what was at stake.
He had a team of veterans back from a 29-win season. The only new piece to the puzzle was Chatman, who saw action as a backup last season but was taking over at the point for three-year starter Antoine Young.
“I don’t know if there was any more pressure on any guy in our program because of what he had to replace,” McDermott said. “We had everyone else back, so if things don’t work out …”
McDermott didn’t have to finish the sentence. Had Creighton’s offensive production slipped, Chatman would have shouldered much of the blame.
“I give Austin a lot of credit,” McDermott said. “He prepared himself for what was coming at the start of the season.”
The 14-1 Bluejays are scoring about 2.5 points less than they did at the same point last season but have improved slightly in a number of other statistical categories.
Chatman ranks fourth on the team with an 8.3 average. The 6-foot sophomore from suburban Dallas is shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 57.7 percent from 3-point range while already exceeding last season’s totals for attempts. As a freshman, Chatman shot 36.6 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“That comes consistently from working on my shot,” Chatman said. “And I’m going to stay in the gym and keep working on it.”
Chatman’s true value is in the playmaking skills that first caught the interest of Creighton coaches during the recruiting process. He’s fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference with 71 assists and owns a 2.2-to-1 assists-to-turnovers ratio.
He’s teamed with Grant Gibbs to give Creighton a pair of playmakers who have confounded opposing teams. Gibbs leads the league in assists with 91 and has compiled an assists-to-turnovers ratio (5.0 to 1) that McDermott and opponents describe as “ridiculous.”
Together, Gibbs and Chatman are averaging 10.8 assists per game. That’s more than 45 Division I teams average.
“They have really good guards,” said Indiana State coach Greg Lansing, who watched the pair combine for 17 assists Saturday in Creighton’s 79-66 victory over the Sycamores. “They make the right plays all the time. They’re obviously well-coached, and they know where the ball needs to be.
“Grant Gibbs is one of the smartest guys in the country. Chatman is dynamic off the ball screens, getting into the paint and making the right plays.”
Chatman had nine assists to go with 13 points against the Sycamores. He had a career-high 11 assists earlier this season, and has finished with more assists than turnovers in 10 of Creighton’s 15 games.
Gibbs’ eight assists against Indiana State marked the fourth time this season that he’s had eight or more in a game. He had a three-game stretch in December with 27 assists against one turnover, and just once this season finished a game with more turnovers than assists.
Their teammates recognize the advantage that Chatman and Gibbs give them.
“They do such a good job of finding open teammates,” forward Ethan Wragge said. “They make sure that on each possession that we get a great shot.”
Their talents complement each other. Chatman has the explosiveness that Gibbs lacks. Gibbs has the experience that Chatman is just starting to gain. Chatman is quick enough to get into the teeth of the defense. At 6-5, Gibbs is big enough to set up the offense from the perimeter.
“Grant is always finding a way to get the ball in the basket,” Chatman said. “When teams sag off him, he’ll shoot it. He does a good job of penetrating off ball screens and getting to the rack. It makes for a nice 1-2 combo at the point guard position.”
One that Greg McDermott knows makes his offense efficient and effective.
“Those guys understand where the ball has to go, and they understand where our strength is,” Greg McDermott said. “When teams take that strength away, they are capable of stepping up and knocking down shots.”
Gibbs has done so on several occasions, most recently in a Jan. 2 win over Illinois State. The Redbirds jammed up the inside and dared Gibbs to shoot. He finished with 16 points in the 79-72 win.
Chatman has consistently knocked down shots when opponents have elected to play off him, especially on ball screens set by Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique.
“Austin’s shooting percentage is pretty doggone good,” Greg McDermott said. “Teams lay off him, and that’s ridiculous to me, but I hope they keep doing that.”’
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