CARBONDALE, Ill. — The annual Coaches Versus Cancer weekend always carries special meaning for Creighton's Greg McDermott, given that his wife is a breast cancer survivor.
And the timing of Sunday's game against Southern Illinois was perfect in that it gave McDermott a chance to recognize a guy who did a lot for his wife, Theresa, and their family when she was battling the disease seven years ago.
After Creighton's 81-51 win against the Salukis, McDermott put in an unsolicited plug for Salukis coach Barry Hinson.
“I hope you understand what you have in Barry Hinson,” McDermott said. “He's one heck of a basketball coach, but his ability to coach basketball doesn't hold a candle to his integrity, what he stands for and what he's all about.”
When Theresa McDermott was first diagnosed with breast cancer, Greg was coaching at Northern Iowa. Hinson was the coach at Southwest Missouri State, which is now Missouri State.
“When she was diagnosed, she received flowers, a card or something from Barry Hinson every 10 days for the entire season,” McDermott said. “That's why I hope you people embrace him. It's so good for our league to have him back. He will light a fire under this program and fight tooth and nail.
“And he'll do it the right way. Sometimes as fans we get caught up in wins and losses, and we forget that there is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. You have a guy in charge that is going to do everything right.”
When told of McDermott's tribute, the ever-witty Hinson tried to use humor to deflect the praise.
“Don't tell Greg,” he said, “but she likes short guys.”
Hinson, who is about 5-foot-8, then turned the tables, praising McDermott for emptying the bench to keep from running up the score on his short-handed and just plain short team.
“They could have beat us a lot worse,” Hinson said. “I told him at the end of the game that he was a class individual. I certainly appreciated that. My guys are extremely fragile right now, and he realized that. That's as good of an act of sportsmanship that you can have.”
Bench gets some time
McDermott used 13 players in the game, and gave some early playing time to sophomore Will Artino, redshirt freshman Nevin Johnson and true freshman Andre Yates. In fact, Artino and Yates subbed into the game in the first four minutes.
Artino was coming off a strong showing against Drake, and he scored two points in seven minutes against the Salukis. Johnson scored a point and had two rebounds in 10 minutes, while Yates had a point and three assists in 11 minutes.
Yates had not played in four of Creighton's eight Missouri Valley Conference games, including the last three. His 11 minutes Sunday were three fewer than he had in the four games in which he played.
“It's been a long week, and we've had some guys log some big minutes,” McDermott said. “I wanted to try to keep guys fresh for the stretch run. And Andre's practiced really well the past few days.
“We'll continue to use those guys. It was good to see Andre go out there and get three assists versus no turnovers when he was playing important minutes.”
Seen the last of Doug?
Sunday's crowd of 5,764 was Southern Illinois' largest of the season, and Hinson acknowledged that many of the fans probably turned out to see a nationally ranked Creighton team and its player of the year candidate, Doug McDermott.
“But I'm absolutely blown away by the fans,” Hinson said. “We've won one league game. I told our student body thank you at the end of the game. I told our players that if they continue to give great effort, they'll come back.”
Hinson added that he hopes it's the last time the fans have a chance to see McDermott, a junior who will face a decision at season's end whether to return for his senior season or turn professional.
“I find a lot of happiness in his success,” said Hinson, who watched McDermott score 21 points and grab 10 rebounds. “And I'll find a lot more happiness when he declares for the NBA draft. I've called every NBA team and told them he's the next Larry Bird.”
Early's absence felt
The Salukis played without leading rebounder Jeff Early, suspended by the Valley after he was called for a flagrant 2 foul for elbowing Northern Iowa's Jake Koch in the lower midsection in the previous game.
Early, who was ejected from that game, had been averaging 7.5 rebounds. He also was SIU's second-leading scorer at 12.7 points per game.
“We missed him, but I don't think it would have made that big a difference,” Hinson said. “I'm not one of the coaches to come in here and say, 'If we would have had Jeff Early, things would have been different.'
“The difference it made to me was that he let our team down by his actions. We don't condone that. I've been apologetic for it, and hopefully he'll play better Wednesday night when he comes back and plays.”
Bits and pieces
As part of the Coaches Versus Cancer event, the staffs of both teams wore tennis shoes for the game. Greg McDermott and his staff wore bright pink ones, which they also will don Saturday for Creighton's annual Pink-Out game against Bradley. … Grant Gibbs had six assists and reached 300 career assists faster than all but one other player in school history. He did it in 56 games, while it took Ralph Bobik 53 to reach 300. … Doug McDermott moved into fourth place on CU's career scoring chart, passing Bob Portman. Portman also held the record for points in three seasons with 1,876. McDermott has 1,879 career points in 95 games. He also moved into 20th place on the Valley's career scoring chart. … Creighton has won 12 straight games against teams from Illinois. … Ethan Wragge's four 3-pointers give him 198 for his career. He needs three to pass Nate Funk, moving into fourth on the Bluejays' career chart.
— Steven Pivovar