Creighton junior Ty-Shon Alexander had turned to jog back toward the other end of the floor when his teammate rose up to fire a wide open jumper early in Friday’s game.
Alexander didn’t need to watch. He had a good feeling Marcus Zegarowski’s shot was going in.
The sense of certainty from CU’s players wasn’t limited to that particular instance Friday. The Jays were confidently strutting up and down the CHI Health Center court quite often Friday as they whipped crisp passes around a properly spaced floor, routinely turning down good shots to create even better looks for one another.
The result was a scorching start that set the tone for Creighton in an 86-70 victory over Cal Poly in front of 16,783.
“The first 10-12 minutes of the first half was maybe as good of basketball we played all year,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
Zegarowski did indeed splash in the triple that Alexander figured was destined to drop. It was part of an 18-5 surge to begin the game for the Jays, who made their first seven shots and recorded an assist on each one of those.
There was junior Damien Jefferson driving downhill and twice finding Christian Bishop for dunks. Jefferson got two layups off passes from teammates as well. Alexander, on a back cut, caught a bounce pass from Zegarowski and finished with a two-handed dunk.
Creighton (3-1) had extended its lead to 20 points by the first half’s midway point — a stretch that included Mitch Ballock’s crowd-pleasing 3-pointer launched from just off the Bluejay logo at center court. CU went ahead 36-14 on Bishop’s post-move finish with 7:17 left before the break.
Jefferson said the way Cal Poly’s defensive tactics created some opportunities for ball handlers to get into the lane early on — especially given the threat posed by the shooting prowess of Ballock, Alexander and Zegarowski. That trio is shooting a combined 37 of 74 from 3-point range this season.
“That gave everybody else a little leeway,” said Jefferson, who scored 17 points. “You leave guys like me and CB to make plays for ourselves, and make plays for others.”
The Mustangs (1-4) did adjust, though. And they weren’t easy to put away. They connected on their last seven shots to end the first half and they caused some issues for CU with their 1-3-1 zone after halftime.
Creighton’s lead never dipped lower than 13 points during the final 20 minutes — but it shot 34.6% from the floor in the second half. Had Cal Poly not committed 18 turnovers (leading to 27 CU points), it might have had a chance at a comeback Friday.
“I definitely saw them hit a wall,” McDermott said of his players.
The bench didn’t provide Creighton with as much of a lift as it has during the season’s first couple weeks, McDermott said. Senior Kelvin Jones picked up two first-half fouls in about 13 seconds.
The Jays, still dealing with a limited rotation without guard Davion Mintz and still-ineligible transfer Denzel Mahoney, went to a five-guard lineup for a stretch right before halftime. McDermott didn’t start subbing his starters out of the game until four minutes remained.
The five starters all finished in double figures, led by Zegarowski’s 18 points and six assists. But they’re taking on a big workload.
Now Creighton has to turn around and play again Sunday. It’ll host North Florida (4-2) at 1 p.m. Creighton also has two games in Las Vegas next week.
“This is going to be a challenge,” McDermott said. “We knew going with our roster situation and injury situation that these four games in eight days is going to be tough for us.”