Creighton’s rediscovery of an old friend pumped some life into an offense that had been missing in action.
The Bluejays made nine 3-pointers in Saturday’s 71-68 victory at Evansville. Eight came on the 14 3-point shots taken by Jahenns Manigat, Ethan Wragge, Austin Chatman and Avery Dingman.
In Creighton’s three previous games — all losses — those four combined to make 6 of 32 attempts from beyond the arc. Their renewed accuracy against the Purple Aces proved to be the difference, Bluejay coach Greg McDermott said.
“When we were winning, Jahenns, Ethan, Avery and Austin were all shooting it at a high level,” McDermott said. “They all hit big shots for us, and that’s the difference between winning and losing.”
Creighton has made 45.9 percent of its 3-pointers in its 21 wins this season. In the Bluejays’ six losses, they’ve shot 32.6 percent from beyond the arc. That’s left some fans lamenting that Creighton is a team that lives and dies by the 3-point shot.
To that, McDermott’s answer is simple.
“It’s who we are and how we play,” he said. “We can’t turn into a dribble-drive team overnight because we’re not built that way. We’re built to spread the floor.
“We’ll attack some but we’re going to shoot some 3s, and fortunately, today we made a few.”
The nine 3-point baskets on 18 attempts marked the 10th time this season that the Bluejays made at least half of their shots from beyond the arc.
In the three previous games, Creighton made 28.5 percent of its 3-pointers in losses to Indiana State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa. That mirrored the overall struggle the offense had in making shots as the Bluejays converted 40.4 percent of their attempts in the three-game skid.
When the shots quit dropping, the offense appeared to get stuck in low gear. Opponents didn’t have to worry as much about defending the perimeter, and that allowed them to provide extra focus on forward Doug McDermott and center Gregory Echenique.
“Any time we miss shots, it takes away from what we want to do offensively,” Manigat said. “When we’re not making shots, guys can stay in the lane and crowd Doug and Greg.
“When we make some shots it shows teams that they just can’t stay inside and double-team those guys. We have to make them pay for that.”
Manigat helped set the tone against Evansville, making his first three 3-point shots. He finished 3 of 6 from beyond the arc after having made 2 of 12 3-pointers in the previous three games.
Wragge made 2 of 5 3-pointers against the Purple Aces after going 1 for 10 in the three losses. Chatman, 2 of 6 from beyond the arc in the previous three games, connected on both of his attempts Saturday.
Dingman shot once against the Purple Aces, and his 3-pointer early in the second half gave Creighton its first lead of the game after the Bluejays had trailed by as many as 16 in the first half.
“It’s nice to see the ball going through the hoop,” Wragge said. “It gets our confidence headed in the right direction, and we just have to roll with it like we did last year.”
Creighton also lost three games in a row at a similar point last season. The Bluejays rebounded by winning their next seven games before ending the season with a loss in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
As important as shot-making was against Evansville, it was the resolve Creighton showed that might provide the most important long-term impact for the Bluejays.
Evansville twice had streaks where it made six shots in a row. The first allowed the Purple Aces to streak to a 14-3 lead four minutes into the game. The second turned a 16-15 lead into a 31-15 bulge with 7:49 left in the first half.
Given its recent struggles, Creighton could have given in at that point. Instead, the Bluejays tightened up their defense and held the Purple Aces to 27.5 percent shooting the rest of the way.
“That wasn’t exactly how we drew that one up,” Wragge said. “It was nice to show some resiliency on the road and pull one out.”
Creighton opened the season by winning its first six games away from Omaha. The Bluejays then lost four straight, dropping Missouri Valley Conference road games at Wichita State, Drake, Indiana State and Northern Iowa.
A common thread in the last three road losses was that Creighton showed a willingness to back away when the opponent threw a punch. Against Evansville, the Bluejays fought back after the Purple Aces came out smoking.
“We showed a lot of heart,” Manigat said. “Things weren’t working at the beginning but we battled through that. Next thing we knew, we looked up at the scoreboard and it was a game.
“We could have gotten down emotionally when we were down early but guys kept pushing through it. That got us a victory.”
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