When the Bluejays found themselves in a one-possession game late against Louisiana Tech earlier this month, they turned to what they do best.
They fired up jumpers.
Junior Ty-Shon Alexander nailed a top-of-the-key 3-pointer. The next possession, Creighton drew up a play for junior Mitch Ballock, who darted around a screen, flashed open on the wing and buried a victory-sealing 3.
But there may come a time when Creighton is forced to produce in other ways with the game on the line. Maybe the shots aren’t falling. Maybe an athletic opponent can limit the Jays’ long-range looks — Thursday’s foe, San Diego State, ranks 24th nationally in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (26.2%).
Can the Jays diversify their attack? It’s what they’ll be working on as the nonconference season unfolds.
“That’s one of the challenges we have,” coach Greg McDermott said. “We don’t get a lot of easy baskets. We rely on some jump shots. The odds would tell you that’s a hard way to live, but fortunately we’ve got some elite guys that can really shoot it.”
At the start of the week, the Jays were the only Division I team with three players ranked in the top 50 in 3-point shooting percentage (Alexander, Ballock and Marcus Zegarowski). As a team, Creighton makes 41.5% of its long-range shots, 14th in the country.
Yet Creighton’s still working to integrate its big men, Christian Bishop and Kelvin Jones, into the offense. And McDermott said the timing within set plays could be improved. The pace at which the players move in the half court could be better, too.
That said, though, CU’s offense is rated as the nation’s eighth-most efficient attack, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted analytics.
“They’ll be a handful,” San Diego State junior Matt Mitchell said this week.
But Mitchell’s one of three 6-foot-6 wings in the Aztecs’ regular rotation — also, junior Jordan Schakel and sophomore Aguek Arop, a former Omaha South standout who has logged 12 minutes per game off the bench this season. SDSU’s length likely will make it more difficult for the Jays to get comfortable when the two face off in the first game of the Las Vegas Invitational.
If Creighton defeats San Diego State, that could set up a Friday contest against event favorite Texas Tech. The Red Raiders rode their suffocating defense all the way to the NCAA tournament title game last year.
In matchups like that, it becomes paramount for Creighton to keep attacking, Alexander said. More movement. More ball reversals. More downhill drives.
“When we move the ball, then the game is pretty much in our hands,” the junior said. “Screening for each other, finding each other, giving the ball back to each other — that’s a big thing for us.”