Much of the preseason angst concerning Creighton’s basketball fortunes centered on how the Bluejays would fare without massive Gregory Echenique in the middle.
Thus far, Creighton coach Greg McDermott likes what he’s getting out of junior Will Artino and true freshman Zach Hanson as his team attempts to move forward without Echenique, the only starter the Bluejays lost from last season’s 28-win team.
Artino and Hanson combined for 21 points and six rebounds in Friday night’s season-opening rout of Alcorn State. The pair also had played well in Creighton’s exhibition game, combining for 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Artino, who shot 64.6 percent from the field last season, made 5 of 7 field-goal attempts Friday.
“I thought he was very efficient,” McDermott said. “He doesn’t take very many bad shots and he plays within himself. He scraps around and gets his hands on a lot of things.
“And I thought Zach gave us some good minutes off the bench.”
With forwards Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge chipping in 35 points and 11 rebounds, Creighton dominated the play inside. The Bluejays finished with a 44-16 edge in points in the paint and a 14-4 advantage in second-chance points.
“I like where our front line is,” Greg McDermott said. “And I’m hoping to get Geoff a little more healthy as time goes on.”
Geoffrey Groselle, at 7-foot the Bluejays’ tallest player, has been hampered by Achilles problems in both feet.
“He’s not there yet, and I think that’s evident when you watch him play,” the coach said. “But he’s working through it, and hopefully by the first of the year, he’ll be to the point where he can give us a little more.”
Friday’s start was the first of his career for Artino, who averaged 3.9 points last season as Echenique’s backup.
“I thought I played pretty well, although I could have rebounded a little better,” the 6-11 Artino said. “I think the way these new rules are it’s tough to get into the flow, but as the year goes on, I think we’ll all adjust to it.”
Big guys watch out for Brooks
One thing Artino and the rest of Creighton’s big men have learned is to be on their toes when Devin Brooks is in the game.
“You never know where the ball is going,” Doug McDermott said.
In his first two appearances, Brooks has displayed some slick passing skills. He had five assists against the Braves to go along with 15 points and six rebounds.
“I’m sure all of us aren’t quite sure when Dev is going to get us the ball,” Wragge said. “He seems to find a way to get it to us, and you just have to stay ready and have your hands up because you never know when it’s going to come.”
Greg McDermott jokingly said that playing Brooks could be hazardous to his health.
“I think I’m going to age a little these next two years because of my friend Devin,” he said. “His heart is in the right place and he’s very creative in what he does.
“We just have to get him to learn when to take chances and when not to. There are times when you have to go make a play and there are times when you need to make the simple play. Devin would like to make the spectacular play every time.”