Marcus Zegarowski

Creighton's Marcus Zegarowski drives to the basket against Kennesaw State's Danny Lewis during the first half in Omaha on Tuesday.

Creighton’s trio of now-seasoned guards helped build a lead with their elite shot-making skills Tuesday night, but their poise and resolve was what caught the attention of their head coach in a season-opening win.

It was Ty-Shon Alexander sharing a word of encouragement with a freshman on their way off the court at halftime. It was Mitch Ballock battling on the glass, communicating on defense and moving the ball offensively. It was Marcus Zegarowski turning the ball over one possession, then boldly driving into the paint and finishing with a layup on the very next trip down.

Certainly, the Jays (1-0) are going to need scoring production out of those three backcourt returnees.

But their roles as tone-setters might be even more significant for a CU squad that saw four freshmen and one grad transfer make their Creighton debuts in an 81-55 victory over Kennesaw State (0-1) at the CHI Health Center.

“New guys are going to make mistakes and it’s going to look sloppy at times, and their eyes are immediately going to turn to these three,” coach Greg McDermott said. “They need a soft landing spot when that happens. It’s a lot to ask out of two juniors and a sophomore, but at least in the interim here until we get some bodies back, they’re going to be rock solid for us.”

Zegarowski, Alexander and Ballock have been preparing for the added responsibility all preseason, especially over the last few weeks.

Senior Davion Mintz and junior Damien Jefferson are hobbled with foot injuries — they didn’t play Tuesday and it’s unclear when they’ll return.

Their absence vaulted Shereef Mitchell, out of Omaha Burke, into the starting lineup. He became just the fourth CU true freshman to start a regular-season opener since the 1992-93 campaign.

Redshirt freshman Jett Canfield and senior big man Kelvin Jones were the first two Jays substitutes. Freshman Jalen Windham made his first appearance a few minutes later. Freshman walk-on Nic Zeil debuted late as well.

The inexperience definitely led to miscues Tuesday, and instances where CU looked disjointed. There were jitters. Creighton built an early 19-6 edge, but watched as Kennesaw State hustled its way to extra chances (six first-half offensive rebounds) and earned trips to the foul line (nine first-half attempts). The Owls only trailed 39-31 at the break.

“We kind of lost our rhythm,” McDermott said.

Things were different after halftime, though.

It started when sophomore Christian Bishop hedged high on a ball screen, deflected a pass and dribbled downcourt for a fast-break layup. That sparked a decisive 20-2 surge over the first seven minutes of the second half.

“It was the energy,” Alexander said. “Coach told us we’ve got to get tougher. We had to come into the second half with a lot more energy.”

The Jays want those types of sequences to be part of their DNA, according to Alexander. He hopes to spearhead it, too. Same goes for Ballock and Zegarowski.

Those three were responsible for Creighton’s first 21 points Tuesday. Alexander made his first three 3-pointers. Zegarowski knocked down his first two. Ballock grabbed an offensive rebound and converted a putback.

But there’s still a lingering challenge that those three will face.

They can’t allow their own miscues or shooting slumps to impact their demeanor. They have to unflappably lead the way, in more ways than one. Tuesday was just the start.

“The game is going to go up and down a lot, and you can’t control some of that stuff,” Zegarowski said. “But you can control your body language, and you can control your effort, and you can control your leadership and your voice. I try to focus on those qualities in the game.”

***

Bits and pieces: The 12 points for Bishop (all in the second half) marked a career high. … Mitchell finished with eight points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals in his debut. Windham scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds. … At one point in the second half Tuesday, the Jays were 11-of-17 from behind the 3-point line. They finished at 48.0% from 3-point range, making 12 total. … The victory was CU’s 25th straight win in a regular season home opener. The announced attendance was 16,321.

KENNESAW STATE (0-1)

FG FT RB PF A Min TP

Spencer 3-4 0-0 8 1 1 24 6

Lockley 4-12 2-4 7 0 1 33 12

Kuerban 0-5 0-0 5 2 4 23 0

Hooker 2-9 6-7 2 2 0 33 10

Washington 1-5 0-0 1 1 1 17 2

Burden 3-6 0-2 1 3 0 22 6

Lewis 7-13 0-0 3 3 0 24 15

Harris 2-5 0-0 5 2 2 20 4

Miller 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 1 0

Romich 0-0 0-0 1 0 0 3 0

Totals 22-59 8-13 34 14 9 200 55

3-point shots (3-20) — Lockley 2-6, Kuerban 0-3, Hooker 0-2, Washington 0-1, Burden 0-3, Lewis 1-5.

Team rebounds: 1. Turnovers: 18. Shot percent:  37.3

CREIGHTON (1-0)

FG FT RB PF A Min TP

Bishop 6-10 0-2 7 3 0 18 12

Mitchell 4-7 0-1 6 1 3 28 8

Alexander 6-11 2-2 4 0 1 29 19

Zegarowski 7-10 0-0 3 1 5 30 18

Ballock 2-7 0-0 7 2 3 30 4

Canfield 0-2 0-0 1 2 2 17 0

Scurry 2-4 0-0 2 0 0 7 5

Ziel 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 6 0

Windham 3-6 0-0 5 1 1 19 8

Jones 3-6 1-3 6 3 1 16 7

Totals 33-63 3-8 41 13 16 200 81

3-point shots (12-25) — Mitchell 0-2, Alexander 5-8, Zegarowski 4-5, Ballock 0-2, Canfield 0-1, Scurry 1-3, Windham 2-4.

Team rebounds: 0. Turnovers: 15. Shot percent: 52.4

Kennesaw St. 31 24—55

At Creighton 39 42—81

A: 16,321. Officials: Kipp Kissinger, Tommy Morrissey, Lamar Simpson.

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