Mention Ryan, Simons and Dunham to Jahenns Manigat, and the Creighton guard knows you’re not talking about some law firm.
It’s a trio that definitely knows how to operate on court, not in one. And they’re three guys who have given Manigat his share of nightmares over the years.
Colt Ryan and Ben Simons are now ghosts of Manigat’s past, as they played for Evansville and Drake, respectively, when Creighton was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. Butler’s Kellen Dunham now takes their place on Manigat’s list of toughest players to guard.
“He’s a guy that can make you pay when you’re playing really good defense,” Manigat said. “And he’ll certainly make you pay when you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.
“We were watching film, and we got away with some stuff when we played them at home. He’s watching the same film we are, and we know we’re going to have to be locked in on him this time.”
Dunham, tied for sixth in scoring in the Big East with a 16.8 average, scored 12 when Creighton administered an 88-60 whipping to the Bulldogs a month ago in Omaha. He’ll be looking to better that Thursday night when struggling Butler takes on No. 18 Creighton in a 6 p.m. game at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Bulldogs, like the Bluejays, are experiencing their first season of Big East competition. Until dropping a 70-65 decision Sunday to St. John’s, Creighton held a share of the conference lead and, at 9-2, is just a game behind Villanova.
Butler finds itself at the other end of the standings as Tuesday night’s 64-50 loss to Xavier — the other new league member — left the Bulldogs in last place at 2-10. They have lost three in a row and five of their last six, with their only win coming at Seton Hall on Jan. 29.
It’s been a rough initiation to the Big East for a program that three seasons ago was making its second straight appearance in the national championship game.
“We had some stretches where we’ve played good basketball, but when things went wrong against Xavier, they dominoed on us,” Butler coach Brandon Miller said. “We didn’t make shots, and then when adversity hit, we didn’t respond the way we normally respond.
“Now, we have the quick turnaround against Creighton. We have to pick ourselves and be ready to play against a very good team.”
Miller and his players know how good the Bluejays’ offense can be as Creighton put together perhaps its best half of the season in the first meeting. The Bluejays scored 53 points on 30 first-half possessions. They scored on 14 straight possessions at one point, closing the first 20 minutes on a 32-6 run.
“They have one of the best offenses in the country,” Miller said. “When they get rolling, they are a team that can go on big-time runs.”
One of Creighton’s goals Thursday is to get its offense back on track after a loss to a St. John’s team that is playing as well as any squad in the conference. The Bluejays shot 41.1 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from beyond the arc.
They also missed 11 free throws in a game decided by five points.
“It just wasn’t our game,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “We didn’t play our best basketball but we can’t look back. We just have to get back at it and get a big one against Butler.”
Especially with sixth-ranked Villanova coming to town Sunday in what could a battle for first place in the league.
“We haven’t even started thinking about Villanova,” McDermott said. “We’re focused on Butler. They haven’t won a lot of games in conference, but they’re capable of beating anyone. They’ve played some really close games at home.”
Villanova had to go overtime to escape Hinkle with a victory. So did Georgetown, and DePaul needed two overtimes to pull out an early-January win against the Bulldogs.
But losing takes a toll, and Butler certainly wasn’t immune.
“It makes it harder,” Miller said. “I will give our guys credit because even though we’ve been through some adversity, our guys still have a great demeanor about them. They’ve taken the approach that they want to get better every single day.
“We’ll see how we respond to yesterday (Xavier game), because yesterday was uncharacteristic of us and how we normally play.”
A bounce-back performance by Dunham certainly would be timely. Xavier held the sophomore to two points on 1-of-10 shooting Tuesday. It was the fifth time this season that he failed to score at least 10 points and came after he had averaged 20.8 points in his previous five home games.
Manigat doesn’t expect the performance will have much carryover, and he knows Dunham will be out there bouncing off screens and unleashing tough shots, just as Ryan and Simons once did.
“He never stops moving, and they run so many actions for him that you can never really relax,” Manigat said. “If you do, you know he’s going to hurt you.”
NOTES: Creighton leads the series 5-3 and is 1-2 at Hinkle. … McDermott needs seven points to move into 15th place on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list. He has 2,798 points. Allan Houston is 16th with 2,801 points and Kevin Bradshaw is No. 15 with 2,804. … McDermott is second nationally in scoring. Antoine Mason of Niagara leads the nation with a 26.3 average, while McDermott is averaging 25.3. … Despite this season’s struggles, Butler has the most wins of any current member of the Big East since the 2000-01 season with 333. Creighton is second at 327. … A victory would extend Creighton’s streak of winning at least 10 conference games to 18 consecutive seasons.