The most impressive part of Tuesday night's 88-51 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff wasn't necessarily the points Creighton scored or the defense the Bluejays played.
Instead, it was the take-care-of-business approach Creighton displayed against an opponent that could have been easy to overlook.
“I think maturity is the word I'd use to describe it,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “Just because it was Arkansas-Pine Bluff, we didn't overlook them. We went out there and executed what we wanted to do.”
The Golden Lions arrived in Omaha having played their previous nine games away from home. They had lost seven straight games, playing teams such as Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Oregon State.
Couple that with Creighton's past history with the Golden Lions — it had won the four previous meetings by an average of 31 points — and the fact that Bluejays were playing for the first time in nine days, and this one could have been one for the going-through-the-motions file.
Instead, Creighton built a big lead early in the game that drew 16,303 to the CenturyLink Center, led by 22 points at halftime, survived some cold shooting to start the second half and poured it on at the end.
“We have a good group of guys that are really level-headed,” guard Avery Dingman said. “We're locked in and we realize that it's just one step at a time. We realize that you can't take anything for granted.
“We've had eight days off and we knew we had to get it going again. I feel like we played really well for nearly 40 minutes.”
In winning its third straight game in blowout fashion, Creighton improved to 8-2 with a difficult game against California coming up Sunday. That could have been another reason to not devote 100 percent focus on the overmatched Golden Lions, but the Bluejays refused to fall into that trap.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott had been banging home the point in the practices leading up to the game that the Bluejays needed to be focused on the task at hand.
“I was concerned because Pine Bluff had played stretches of really good basketball,” he said. “And I was concerned that they were different in that they were going to play zone the whole time.
“Sometimes you come out against a zone and you can't make a shot and it becomes a bit of a grind. Plus, every coach is concerned about the first game after finals.”
Whether the players aced all of their exams is a matter between them and their professors, but they certainly received high marks for their start against the Golden Eagles.
Creighton was ahead by 10 points before the game was five minutes old and held a 28-9 advantage with 8:59 left in the first half. The Bluejays were aggressive in attacking Arkansas-Pine Bluffs' 2-3 zone with some crisp ball movement that produced four 3-point baskets and seven free throws in the first 11 minutes.
“We had worked on it a lot in practice because they had played pretty much zone every game,” said Doug McDermott, who led Creighton with 25 points and nine rebounds. “We had a couple of turnovers that we have to clean up, but they've turned over other teams on their schedule a lot more than they did us tonight.”
The Golden Lions had been forcing an average of 18 turnovers per game but got just 10 against the Bluejays. Doug McDermott had four of those and point guard Devin Brooks three.
“One of the things we were kind of keying on was not have those dumb passes over the top,” Wragge said.
With McDermott getting 14 of his points in the first half and Wragge making 3 of his 4 3-point shots in a 12-point night, Creighton blew out to a 44-22 lead. Arkansas-Pine Bluff did cut its deficit to 16 on two occasions in the second half, and might have been able to get even closer had it been able to take advantage of the Bluejays' cold shooting.
Creighton missed 13 of its first 14 field-goal attempts to open the half, with its lone basket coming from Doug McDermott with 12:42 to play. The Golden Lions were still within 17 points before Creighton went on a 19-6 run over a span of 5½ minutes that pushed its lead to 76-46.
Six players scored in the spurt, and the once-frigid Bluejays made 14 of their final 18 shots to seal their victory.
“Our ball movement against the zone was pretty good early and pretty good late, and it was suspect in the middle of the game,” Greg McDermott said. “But I thought we were active and got good play off our bench.
“And on a night when we didn't shoot it particularly well from the 3-point line, we still managed to score almost 90 points.”
The Bluejays made just 10 of 30 3-point attempts but did finish the game shooting 48.2 percent overall. They also held a 40-24 edge in rebounding, converted 14 turnovers into 23 points and finished with a 39-8 edge in bench scoring.
Will Artino (10 points), Devin Brooks (eight) and Dingman (seven) were the most productive reserves. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-8) got 22 points from Tevin Hammond, but no other Golden Lion reached double figures.
“To get through this one and get the win,” Greg McDermott said, “was really important.”
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>> Video: See highlights from Creighton's win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff:
>> Video: See coach Greg McDermott's postgame press conference:
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