A victory over a top-five team like the one Creighton recorded over Xavier brings a lot of luster with it.
But the Bluejays know they can quickly tarnish the value of the program’s biggest win in two seasons if they take a step backward in Saturday’s game at Marquette.
“I think a lot of us would feel bad if that’s the last highlight of the season,” Creighton center Zach Hanson said. “I think we want that one to be one of the bigger highlights of the season leading up to us playing our best basketball.
“We just have to go back to working on the things that got us the win.”
The Bluejays picked up Tuesday’s upset of the Musketeers by putting together a solid defensive effort, matching Xavier’s physicality on the boards and getting 32 points from point guard Maurice Watson.
A repeat of any of the three would be beneficial Saturday when Creighton faces the Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. So would neutralizing the potential double trouble posed by freshman Henry Ellenson and junior Luke Fischer.
The 6-foot-11 Ellenson, whom many observers expect to head to the NBA after one season at Marquette, leads the Big East in rebounding (10.1 per game) and double-doubles (15) while averaging a team-high 16.6 points per game.
The 6-11 Fischer averages 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting almost 60 percent from the field. The Golden Eagles have operated efficiently whenever they can get the basketball inside to their big men.
“This is a team that wants to throw it inside,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “That’s what they do, and it’s not easy to stop them because they move Ellenson around so much.
“He’s got the ability to face the basket as well as play with his back to the basket. At 6-11, he’s a terrific passer. He makes teams pay for double teams.”
Ellenson’s game has been heavily scrutinized.
“Henry’s a guy we’ve given a lot of responsibility to as a young player,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “He’s at the top of everyone’s scouting report, and I think he’s embraced that.
“All of the really good players I’ve been around have embraced that responsibility of being their team’s best player. He’s had a terrific freshman year and he can still get better, but his attitude has really been terrific.”
Ellenson’s versatility poses an extra challenge. He has the green light to shoot from all over the court. He ranks second on the team with 79 3-point attempts and third with 22 baskets from beyond the arc.
“They go to him a lot, and we have to be ready to get stops on him,” Creighton starting center Geoffrey Groselle said. “Overall, we have to make sure we limit the touches that Ellenson and Fischer get. When they do get a touch, we have to make sure we make them take the shots we want them to take.
“If Fischer is getting deep into the paint or Ellenson is getting the shots he wants, we’re going to have a tough time guarding them. If we force them into tough jump hooks or fall-away-from-the-basket shots, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”
Marquette has other weapons, and the Golden Eagles have shown to be a dangerous team when things are clicking. They’ve swept the regular-season series against No. 20 Providence and put up 82 points at Xavier.
“They don’t have tremendous depth, but the guys they put out there really compete,” McDermott said. “And they really fight you on the defensive end.”
Marquette (16-9) begins the final third of conference play in eighth place with a 5-7 record. Three league losses have come at home, and the Golden Eagles also dropped two nonconference games at the Bradley Center.
Creighton knows a fourth Big East road victory would enhance its chances of finishing the regular season strong. The victories over DePaul a week ago and Xavier on Tuesday night have re-energized a team that had lost three straight — to Georgetown, Seton Hall and league-leading Villanova.
The Bluejays (16-9, 7-5) enter Saturday’s game tied for third with Seton Hall and Georgetown. That’s three more Big East victories than Creighton posted a season ago, and its 16 wins overall already are a two-win improvement over last season.
“I think Creighton is one of the most underappreciated teams in the country,” Wojciechowski said. “They have a dynamic point guard in Watson, who is one of the best in the nation.
“They’re really good at all the positions, they understand their roles and they compete very well. When I watch them play, I see an NCAA tournament team.”
Getting back to the national tournament, where they ended three straight seasons before last year’s dip, is attainable if the Bluejays can perform well in the stretch and at the conference tournament next month at Madison Square Garden.
“We all know what’s at stake,” Groselle said. “Getting back to the tournament and putting Creighton back on the map has been our goal. We’re getting closer and closer to it, but we know we can’t afford to slip backward.
“We’re a completely different team than we were a year ago. We’ve been growing every game. We had a little bit of a rough stretch there, but I think we’ve turned it around and there are a lot of good things to come.”
» The first meeting between the teams comes in the 13th conference game of the season. They’ll play again Feb. 24 in Omaha. “Usually this time of the year, you’re going through a scouting report and reviewing and tweaking what you did the first time,” coach Greg McDermott said. “We had to put in a whole new plan for Xavier, which we also played for the first time, and then flip the page and get ready for Marquette. That’s a mental grind for the players, but Marquette has to do the same thing.”
» While Henry Ellenson gets a lot of attention, Marquette guard Haanif Cheatham has put together what Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski calls “an outstanding freshman season.” Cheatham is averaging 11.4 points — 12.5 in conference play — while seeing a lot of action at point guard. “That’s a position he’s never played before,” Wojciechowski said. “He’s a big-time kid. He can really get to the basket and finish, and he’s going to be a tremendous basketball player.”
» Marquette leads the series 49-31, but the Bluejays hold a 3-1 edge in the games the teams have played as Big East members. The Bluejays swept the series in their first year in the league, then split last season with the Marquette win coming on a last-second shot.
» McDermott can tie John “Red” McManus for third on Creighton’s all-time victory chart with a win. McManus won 138 games in his decade as Bluejay coach, while McDermott has 137 wins in six seasons.
Contact the writer: