BEast Georgetown DePaul Basketball

DePaul guard Billy Garrett Jr. 

A DePaul team that is winless in the Big East will have Creighton’s full attention in Sunday’s meeting at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois.

“They’re kind of going through what we went through last year,” Creighton guard Isaiah Zierden said. “They’ve lost a lot of close games. That’s how we were last year, right there until something would happen at the end.

“You look at them and see the 0-and-5 right away but then when you dig in, you see that this is a very good basketball team. We can’t take them lightly.”

The Blue Demons haven’t won since bouncing around then-No. 20 George Washington in a 21-point victory on Dec. 22. In league play, DePaul has dropped a four-point decision to Seton Hall and a five-point game to Butler. Georgetown scored a pair of victories over the Blue Demons but both games were in doubt well into the second half.

Xavier handled DePaul, scoring a 20-point home win, to leave the Blue Demons 0-5.

“This is not a team that lacks talent,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “They just haven’t found a way to win. They didn’t play well against Xavier, but other than that, they’ve played some real good basketball.

“They have a new coaching staff that is trying to put in a different culture, and that’s going to take time. They’re going to win some games before the season ends. I just hope it doesn’t start Sunday.”

Dave Leitao, who guided DePaul to its last NCAA tournament appearance in 2004, returned to the school last March to take over for Oliver Purnell. Leitao inherited a veteran roster that features point guard Billy Garrett Jr., the Big East rookie of the year in 2014 and honorable mention all-conference last season.

Junior center Tommy Hamilton IV, senior forward Myke Henry and senior forward Rashaun Stimage give the Blue Demons an experienced front line.

“They have some pieces,” McDermott said, “but they haven’t found a way to get it done yet.”

Creighton comes into the game off perhaps the finest defensive performance in McDermott’s six seasons as coach. The Bluejays held No. 12 Providence to 29.6 percent shooting and 50 points in Tuesday’s 50-48 loss in Omaha.

The Bluejays held the Friars to .74 points per possession. Creighton’s previous low this season came when Nebraska scored .89 points per possession in an 83-67 Bluejay win.

What did in Creighton against Providence was the Bluejays’ lack of offense. They scored .73 points per possession and shot a season-low 25.8 percent from the field.

In spite of the offensive woes, Creighton came away from the game encouraged that it had taken another step in improving a defense that has been a source of concern this season.

The Bluejays have held their last three opponents to 39.8 percent shooting while climbing to 70th in adjusted defensive efficiency in KenPom.com national rankings

“Even though we lost the game, it gives us credibility to what we’re doing,” Creighton center Zach Hanson said. “If we can get a little better, we’re going to take another step up.

“We looked like a different team defensively. It’s something for us to take pride in, but we can’t forget about what it took this to get us to that level.”

With the exception of the loss to Villanova, Creighton’s defense has improved in league games.

“Our defense has come a long way to a short period of time,” Zierden said. “This game showed that even on a bad shooting night, we still have a chance to hang with an elite team.”

That’s something that McDermott said would probably have been impossible earlier this season.

“Six weeks ago, this team could not have had an offensive game like that and do what they did defensively,” McDermott said. “As disappointed as I am with the loss, there are certainly signs of growth.

“I’ve said it all along, this is a season about growth. We have to keep getting better, keep moving forward. If we can continue to do that, we’ll have a chance to make some noise in late February and March.”

Keeping DePaul from making any noise in mid-January is the immediate priority.

“We know we can’t overlook them,” Zierden said. “As long as we go in and do what we’re supposed to do, I feel confident.”

Notes

» Creighton has won seven out of the last eight meetings between the teams but DePaul holds a 16-12 edge in the series. The Bluejays are 5-1 against the Blue Demons as members of the Big East.

» Zierden played all 40 minutes against Providence in becoming just the second Bluejay to log a complete game since the 2001-02 season. Antoine Young had three complete games during the 2010-11 season.

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