Creighton turned Bradley’s hopes for an upset inside-out in the second half of Saturday’s “Pink Out” game.
The Braves’ defensive strategy was to shore up the inside in an attempt to slow All-American Doug McDermott and Gregory Echenique. That left the Bluejays with plenty of open looks from the perimeter in the first 20 minutes, but they missed 14 of 21 3-point attempts.
Creighton’s focus in the second half turned to getting McDermott and Echenique a little more involved, and it proved successful as the No. 21 Bluejays salted away a 75-58 win before a sellout crowd of 18,111 at the CenturyLink Center.
“We couldn’t resist those open looks in the first half, but we just couldn’t knock them down,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “In the second half, our inside guys worked to get deeper position, we ran some things for them and it paid off.
“The 3s we made in the second half came from our attention to getting it inside in the second half.”
Creighton suffered through one of its worst shooting halves of the season in the first half, making just 34.5 percent from the field.
“We decided at halftime that we were still going to shoot the 3, but that we needed to go inside-out,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I think the key to the game was scoring four straight possessions to start the second half and holding them scoreless.
“That allowed us to regain the lead and get a little of bit of the momentum of the game back. They did a great job of keeping us from getting it in the first half.”
Creighton trailed 30-27 at the break but opened the second half with a layup from McDermott. Echenique followed with a hook shot on the next possession and a layup on the next. Another basket by McDermott, following a steal by Manigat, made it 35-30.
The four inside baskets to start the second half were among the 13 2-point field goals the Bluejays scored in the final 20 minutes after having just three in the first half.
“We made more of an effort to get the ball inside and to keep pushing it in transition,” guard Austin Chatman said. “We just had to get back to what we normally do.”
Creighton shot 69.2 percent in the second half and owned an 18-4 rebounding advantage in the final 20 minutes. Overall, the Bluejays shot 50.9 percent from the field and finished with a 33-24 edge on the boards.
The victory was Creighton’s third straight and improved the Bluejays to 20-3 overall and 9-2 in the Missouri Valley. It also allowed them to take sole possession of first place in the league as Wichita State lost its second game of the week, dropping a 57-52 decision at Northern Iowa.
McDermott finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, while Echenique scored eight of his 10 points after halftime. Chatman established career highs with 16 points and four 3-pointers, while Will Artino chipped in seven well-timed second-half points.
Creighton came into the game leading the nation in 3-point baskets and 3-point percentage, and had plenty of chances to pad those numbers in the first 20 minutes.
“There were times when we had all the time in the world, and that’s kind of weird for a shooter,” Manigat said. “Usually we have someone closing out on us at all times. It was frustrating missing those shots, but Coach Mac told us after the game that he’s not going to tell us not to shoot open shots.
“Our job is to shoot it.”
Make it, too.
“They weren’t falling,” Doug McDermott said. “We did a good job of bouncing back in the second half and got the win.”
Bradley managed to weather Creighton’s initial second-half surge and was still within a point with 14:55 to play. The Bluejays then scored on seven straight possessions, getting four of their five second-half 3-point baskets in the span, to get some separation with a 56-48 lead with 9:08 to play.
McDermott then scored nine straight points over an 82-second span that left the Bluejays with a 17-point lead with 5:12 to play. The Braves then missed three quick shots and were called for a charge on their fourth possession.
“We just kind of panicked,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “We felt it slipping away. We had four straight possessions where we had zero, zero, one and one pass. We were just too quick.”
Dyricus Simms-Edwards, who led Bradley with 18 points, agreed with Ford.
“We were trying to get it all back on those four possessions,” he said. “We started playing hero ball. We just have to stick to what got us to that point. We needed to stay patient and do what we do on offense.
“It’s hard to penetrate on one pass when the defense is so focused on the ballhandler.”
Walt Lemon Jr. added 15 points for the Braves, who dropped to 13-10 and 5-6 in the league. Among Bradley’s losses this season is an eight-point setback against No. 1 Michigan.
“We’ve played a lot of great teams this year,” Ford said. “Creighton is a great team, not a good team. Against Michigan, we seemed to be a little more patient than we were at times in the second half tonight.”
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