CARBONDALE, Ill. — It was the kind of night at SIU Arena where the loudest cheers might have been directed at a couple of fans who made baskets during timeout shooting contests.
The turnout of 5,764 had little else to get that excited about during Creighton's 81-51 dismantling of the home team. Southern Illinois fought hard but this one went the way anyone would expect a game might go between the 17th-ranked Bluejays and an undersized Salukis team that was without one of its best players.
It turned out to be the perfect remedy for a Creighton team still stinging from back-to-back Missouri Valley Conference losses at Wichita State and Drake.
“It feels good to get a win on the road but we're realistic about it,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “They were missing probably their second-best player in Jeff Early, we turned the ball over way too much and there are some things we still need to get cleaned up.
“We know we have a hungry Missouri State team coming to CenturyLink, and we remember what they did to us last year. We definitely don't want a repeat of that.”
The Bluejays will play their first home game in 15 days when they take on Missouri State on Wednesday. They'll take the court at CenturyLink with the shot of confidence that comes with:
» Making shots. The Bluejays converted 63 percent of their field-goal attempts and 60 percent of the 3-pointers against the Salukis. They had shot 41.8 and 45.0 percent in the back-to-back losses.
» Dominating on the boards. Creighton did exactly what it needed to do against one of the shorter teams in Division I that was playing without its top rebounder (Early). The Bluejays owned the boards 39-19, including an 18-4 edge in the first 20 minutes.
» Getting stops. Creighton held the Salukis to 37 percent field-goal shooting. After leading scorer Desmar Jackson got 10 points in the first 5 ½ minutes, the Bluejays limited him to six the rest of the way.
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“We were ready for this one,” said forward Doug McDermott, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. “Those two losses hurt but we didn't change anything.
“We got back to the practice floor and we did a good job of locking in.”
The value of the win, of course, has to be weighed against the fact that it came against a Southern Illinois team that dropped to 8-12 and 1-8 in the Valley. The Salukis also were without Early, suspended by the Valley for an on-court incident in the previous game.
Overall, Creighton coach Greg McDermott saw more things he liked from his team than he didn't.
“I thought our guys played a little more loose, a little more relaxed,” the coach said. “Southern scored those four quick points, and I was concerned by what's happened to us this week.
“But they just stayed with the plan. I liked our pace tonight, I liked what the guys coming off the bench (did) and I liked our attitude on the bench. It was good to get back into the win column.”
The victory improved the Bluejays to 18-3 and, at 7-2 in the league, kept them a game off the pace being set by Valley leader Wichita State.
Jackson gave the Salukis their only lead of the game as he scored off Creighton turnovers on the opening two possessions. The Bluejays countered with a 9-0 run but Jackson made back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 11-10 with 14:32 to play in the opening half.
From there, it was all Creighton. The Bluejays took their first 10-point lead with 10:26 left in the first half and were ahead by 21 with 2:52 left. They settled for a 43-25 halftime lead but scored the first nine points of the second half. The Salukis never got closer than 20 points after that.
“We knew this was a tall order for us,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said. “The thing that makes them so good is that you have to pick and choose your poison. If you want to make McDermott your complete emphasis, then everybody else will hurt you.”
As it turned out, McDermott got plenty of support. Gregory Echenique took advantage of mismatches inside to score 12 points and grab a game-high 11 rebounds.
Grant Gibbs did a little bit of everything — including committing a season-high eight turnovers — in scoring 13 points. He did have six assists and three rebounds.
And Manigat and Ethan Wragge, the Bluejays' outside marksmen who had been missing in action in the two losses, rediscovered their 3-point strokes. Manigat, who went 0 for 8 from the field and 0 for 5 from beyond the arc in the past two games, went 4 for 4 from 3-point range in scoring 12 points.
Wragge, 3 of 13 from 3-point range in the past four games, made four of his first five shots from beyond the arc and also finished with 12 points.
“It's a long season, and 50-percent 3-point shooters don't go 2 for 4 or 3 for 6 every night,” Greg McDermott said. “They'll have some nights like they had tonight and they'll have nights when they go 0-for or 1 for 5.
“You just hope that when it matters, they're going to knock it down. Those guys have continued to work hard and have gotten into the gym a lot.”
Manigat said he and Wragge put up countless numbers of shots before and after each practice in the days leading up to Sunday's game.
“It's tough because the shots I got tonight were the same ones I got against Drake and Wichita,” Manigat said. “Sometimes they fall, sometimes they don't. I think my preparation before this game was a lot better than the previous two.
“I was angry that my shots weren't falling. A lot of that is on me. I need to stay in the gym and prepare myself because you never know when your number is going to be called.”
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