Creighton 100, St. John's 59

Seniors Geoffrey Groselle, left, and James Miliken stand with family as they are honored during the Senior Day festivities. 


Creighton does Senior Day right. The postgame introductions. Players. Managers. Speeches. Even the cheer and dance squad seniors take a bow.

Sunday, Creighton really did Senior Day right.

The Jays ran St. John’s out of the “gym.” It was 100-59 and it was one of those days where everything went in, everything went right. The two CU seniors were the stars.

The only glitch was if you were hoping to see St. John’s coach Chris Mullin for the entire game. Early in the second half, Mullin had seen enough and got himself a ticket to the locker room early, courtesy of the officials.

Why isn’t every night Senior Night?

Where was this effort, this shooting display, against Marquette on Wednesday night?

Chalk it up to a program still learning to bring it every game in the Big East. Barring a serious run these next two weeks, a handful of hard lessons are going to keep the Jays out of the NCAA tournament.

Chalk it up, too, to the “Let It Fly” syndrome.

On Sunday, the Jays couldn’t miss. They were 8 of 12 from “Let It Fly” (3-point) range in the first half, and 18 of 27 from the field.

In the previous game, the thud-like home loss to Marquette, CU was 3 for 21 from beyond the 3-point stripe.

Win by the 3, lose by the 3.

That’s the road Creighton coach Greg McDermott has chosen. And as this season has wound through good nights and bad, big wins and inexplicable losses and an awful midseason slump, an obvious question has come up in some Creightonian circles.

Is it time to scrap the “Let It Fly” identity?

No way, Bluejay.

This is the perfect identity for Creighton basketball in the Big East, and not just because of the double meaning with “Fly” and birds. Marketing genius there.

Not every program has an identity. Most winning programs do. They know who they are and how they’re going to play. They have something to fall back on when times get tough.

Creighton has tradition but very little of it in the Big East. When you’re recruiting against Big East teams with a head-start in tradition and history, it’s nice to be known for something.

Former Jays coach Dana Altman once said when you’re working up the ladder in a conference, it’s good to have a curveball. Something nobody else sees. Playing vanilla against teams with more talent than you is not smart.

Playing straight up against some of these Big East teams that are bigger, stronger and quicker is not advised. Unless McDermott is planning to lure some of those physical specimens to Omaha.

Letting it fly, though, is an angle not many Big East teams see or practice.

It’s a style that CU knows well. There’s a history there. And it hits you in the face as you walk into the Championship Center and see the huge banners of Kyle Korver and Doug McDermott on the wall.

What do you think of when you think Creighton hoops? The 3-point shot. The school has embraced it, won with it, recruited shooters from around the country but mostly here in the Midwest.

Did I mention that every kid wants to be Steph Curry?

The timing of “Let It Fly” could not be better. The Golden State Warriors are leading a hoops revolution that’s going to be felt at all levels. Some of us old guys don’t care for the breathless style, but facts are facts. This is the future of the game. The future of recruits.

Coach McDermott is an Old Schooler who played for tough, disciplined Eldon Miller at Northern Iowa. Fortunately for Creighton, Mac isn’t interested in telling kids to get off his lawn.

“I like playing this way,” McDermott said after Sunday’s game. “It’s a fun way to play. It also spaces the floor and allows your big guys to be more effective, allows a guy like Maurice (Watson) to get into the paint.”

Mac had the ultimate “Let It Fly” group two years ago when Doug McDermott and Co. carved out a second-place finish in the Big East with it. They crashed in the NCAAs against a more athletic Baylor team. That’s certainly a liability of this style.

But the coach is convinced more than ever this is the way to go — especially if the NCAA rules catch up to how NBA refs let it fly.

“The rules have changed from how those guys (Oscar Robertson and other older players) played,” McDermott said. “You used to be able to mug the guy with the ball.

“You can’t do that anymore. The NBA probably does a better job of protecting the ballhandler than we do in college. It makes guarding a guy like Steph Curry virtually impossible.”

Creighton’s heartaches this year have little to do with the “Let It Fly” identity. They didn’t close the deal against Providence and Georgetown. Didn’t show up against Seton Hall and Marquette at home. These are leadership and maturity issues.

Injuries to Toby Hegner, Cole Huff and Isaiah Zierden haven’t helped the shooting percentages. But Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster should fit right into the open-range style next season. So should a pair of four-star guard recruits on their way.

Creighton has the guard position figured out. Now, it needs to beef up inside. On those nights when the outside shots aren’t going down, it’s good to have big and talented backup plans inside.

Geoffrey Groselle predicts good things for big men Zach Hanson and redshirting freshman Justin Patton. But CU has a ways to go to match some of the body types in this league.

“This isn’t the Valley anymore,” Groselle said. “It’s definitely a different caliber of player in the Big East. You’ve got to be bigger, stronger, more athletic.”

There should always be room for stories like Groselle at Creighton, stories about development and patience and hard work.

But the Big East is about talent, physical talent. In three years, CU has shown it can compete in the league and beat the best. But programs like St. John’s and Marquette are just starting to recruit. It’s only going to get harder.

But somewhere out there, the next Steph Curry is putting up hundreds of shots in a lonely gym. He’ll be looking for a place where he can let it fly.

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