EVANSVILLE, Ind. — If Saturday’s game against Evansville is on the line, Creighton doesn’t want to see Colt Ryan there.
Ryan has scored 2,048 points in his career, and more than a quarter (530) have come from the foul line. He leads the Missouri Valley Conference this season in free-throw percentage (.904), and his 113 made free throws are more than all but four players have attempted.
“He reads screens as well as anyone in the country, and he creates a lot of contact,” Bluejays coach Greg McDermott said. “We have to be smart enough not to get baited into that, or he’s going to spend most of the afternoon on the free-throw line.
“And then you’re really asking for trouble.”
Creighton doesn’t need to create any more problems for itself. The Blujeays have lost their past three games, dropping to 20-6 and falling into a second-place tie with Indiana State in the Valley.
A loss in the 2 p.m. game at the Ford Center would give Creighton its first four-game skid since 1999-2000. It hasn’t lost four straight league games since 1995.
The Bluejays also lost three straight last season, and coincidentally the skid came at the same point of the season — the 24th, 25th and 26th games. Creighton snapped the skid with a win at Southern Illinois, and didn’t lose again until North Carolina ended its season in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Realistic or not, the Bluejays are convinced they could pull off a similar reversal. All they need, forward Doug McDermott said, is to get that one win.
“I feel it coming, and I think everyone kind of does,” McDermott said. “This weekend is huge, and I think we’re going to be locked in from the get-go.
“We know that we’re capable of doing what we were doing at the beginning of the year. We know we’re a better team than the way we’re playing. We’ve put ourselves in situations to win these last two games, and we just didn’t come through.”
Creighton lost 75-72 to Illinois State a week ago. It had a five-point lead with 5½ minutes to play Wednesday at Northern Iowa but lost 61-54.
A shooting slump has been the big problem. The nation’s leader in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage, Creighton shot 50 percent or better in 14 of its first 23 games. The Bluejays also had 14 games in which they shot 45 percent or better from beyond the arc.
In the past three games, Creighton has made 40.7 percent of its field-goal attempts and 28.1 percent of its 3-pointers.
“We need to keep taking those shots, but the more film I’ve watched, when we don’t play inside-out our shooting percentages go down,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “We missed a lot of opportunities to throw the ball inside against UNI.
“We have to put an emphasis on that the rest of the way out.”
Creighton is averaging about six fewer post touches per game than it did a season ago when it won 29 games. That wasn’t a big factor when the Bluejays got off to a 17-1 start but has become more critical in a stretch in which they’ve lost five of eight games.
And it has the makings of being decisive against Evansville, which often plays four guards and relies heavily on a freshman post man. Egidijus Mockevicius has shown plenty of growth this season, but the 6-foot-10 Lithuanian had difficulty matching up against Creighton’s Gregory Echenique in the Valley opener in late December.
Echenique had 13 points and 13 rebounds in the Bluejays’ 87-70 win. In six games against the Purple Aces, Echenique has averaged 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds.
“Gregory historically has had some of his better games against Evansville,” Greg McDermott said. “He’s kept the ball high and rebounded it well. We have to get him the ball, and he also has to go get it.”
Meanwhile, the Bluejays will have to try to slow Ryan, who has had some of his best games against Creighton. He scored a career-high 43 points last season in Omaha, and has averaged 23.5 points in eight games against the Bluejays.
Ryan became the 14th player in Valley history to score more than 2,000 points when he scored a season-high 33 points in Sunday’s game against Drake.
The significance of that accomplishment isn’t lost on the player who figures to become the 15th member of the league’s 2,000-point club. Doug McDermott has 1,980 points heading into Saturday’s game.
“I have a lot of respect for him because he does everything right,” McDermott said. “He finds ways to score and he gets to the line. He’s a tough matchup for us every time we play him. He’s a great player, and I’m really looking forward to going against him one more time.”
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