Published Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 12:01 am / Updated at 11:18 pm
Shatel: Where there's a Will ... Jays get big swagger from Artino

Every night can't be Lumberjack Night. Sometimes Doug McBuckets is going to get stuck in the phone booth.

If you're going to win in the big, bad Big East Conference, you better have some Big Swag.

That would be referring to Will Artino, Creighton's 6-foot-11 junior handyman and one-man gang off the bench. You can't game plan Big Swag, you can only hope to contain him.

Imagine the thought going through John Thompson III's head in the second half of CU's 76-63 victory over Georgetown on Saturday night.

His defense held Ethan “The Lumberjack” Wragge to three 3-pointers on six touches. The power chainsaw was low on juice.

The Hoyas did a very nice job on Doug McDermott, that All-Everything guy, limiting him to 14 points and 5-of-15 shooting that caused Doug's face to wrinkle in ways we haven't seen all season, if ever.

Check those two boxes and you think you're going to be OK against Creighton, hoping and praying, of course, that the guy named Artino doesn't go off with that left-handed hook.

What? Who?

In 20 minutes on an electric pink Saturday night, Artino scored 14 points and added five rebounds for good measure. But the headline wasn't Artino's numbers as much as the lift he provided and the message he sent around the Big East.

You can try to corral The Lumberjack and McBuckets. But then Creighton will throw this Swag guy at you, too.

Big Swag? Why not? If Wragge can be “The Lumberjack,” this gangly kid from Waukee, Iowa, needs a moniker, too. I asked for suggestions on Saturday night on Twitter, and some of the better ones were “Goose,” “Wilt Artino,” “Big Bird” and “Baby Giraffe.”

As it turns out, his teammates already call him “Big Swag” after “Bambi” didn't quite stick. Go figure.

“I don't remember why we call him that,” said senior Grant Gibbs. “But we know he's embraced it.”

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What we also know is that Artino has embraced his role off the bench. After he started the first seven games of the season — the last two being losses to San Diego State and George Washington — coach Greg McDermott put Wragge in the lineup. His reasoning: to get his best five players on the floor.

No offense to Artino and none taken. The humble big man has taken to the role.

That illustrates exactly why Creighton's transition into this new conference has it 17-3 and in first place at 7-1.

This is an older team. A bunch of graybeards. The core of the team has been here three, four and five years. There isn't much they haven't seen or been through together.

Two Missouri Valley Conference tourney championships, one regular-season title, two NCAA tourney wins, all the national attention on McDermott. As they were traveling to one of those NCAA games, their bus driver had a heart attack. Lot of stuff here.

So they get a whole lot of love nationally? So they light up the winter night in Philadelphia, and it's the 21 shots heard round the world of college hoops? ESPN and Jim Rome and everyone else in between talking Lumberjack and McBuckets and the bandwagon you'll want to climb aboard.

Now throw in the hype from the Georgetown bus pulling into town and the madness in the building on Saturday night, which included the world record for largest collection of pink shirts in one place — not including a Justice store.

Add a Georgetown zone that Thompson smartly opened the game with, and slow starts by Wragge and McDermott and you have the recipe for panic, choking and other assorted goodies.

This Creighton team is too old for that. Too many battle scars, although there are bound to be some new ones when they wake up this morning.

“All the things that this senior class has been through,” Greg McDermott said, “it's no surprise. They're used to getting a lot of attention, seen a lot of defenses. They've been through it all.”

This is a special senior class. Loads of leadership. You can see that. But you'd better include junior point guard Austin Chatman in that group. He's grown a ton as the floor leader. He was cold as ice going through Georgetown's defense. Creighton's guards — Chatman, Jahenns Manigat and newcomer Devin Brooks, who is growing up fast — deserve boffo credit for this one.

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To be sure, this depleted Georgetown team isn't great. The Hoyas miss a lot of shots. But they can still play bruising defense, and their length and ability to body and harass Wragge and McDermott will be spied by other Big East coaches, if not duplicated.

This won't lead SportsCenter. But in many ways, this was as good a win as Villanova.

It was back to the grind on Saturday night, and that's exactly what this league is all about. Creighton's not going to play Xbox all the time. Last Monday was crazy stuff, uncanny, and should be remembered as such.

The story of this season is how these former Missouri Valley champions, the pretty boys who can shoot it, are mixing it up with the big boys on defense and rebounds. CU has the Player of the Year, sure. But in a working man's league, the Jays have the depth and attitude to roll up their blue, or pink, sleeves and get busy.

And make a running left-handed hook to boot.

“I really don't know where I learned that,” Artino said.

Must be a swag thing.

* * *

Video: Creighton-Georgetown game highlights:

Video: CU coach Greg McDermott postgame:

Video: Georgetown coach John Thompson III postgame:

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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