Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock are often the headliners for the Bluejays. And rightfully so. They’re elite playmakers and consistent tone-setters.
But as the season continues to unfold, it’s likely that defenses are going to pay extra attention to those three.
Enter Damien Jefferson and Denzel Mahoney.
Creighton’s coaches have been working with their stretch-4 men to attack driving lanes and make opponents pay for sticking to shooters and leaving the paint open. They’ve watched film on it. They’ve run through extra drills after practice.
That’s why Jefferson matched a season high with 17 points in CU’s win over Marquette on Wednesday. He made 6 of 10 field-goal attempts and all five free throws. He twice maneuvered around ball screens, finding a rolling Christian Bishop for a layup and driving downhill for a bucket of his own. He didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer.
“DJ probably settled for jumpers quite a bit early in the season,” McDermott said. “We’re working on that every day with him. After practice, (assistant) coach Paul Lusk gets with him and works on that drive and setting his feet.”
Mahoney made all three of his 2-point shots and all four of his free throws. He drew Markus Howard’s fourth foul on a post-up in the second half.
“I thought Denzel was a little jump-shot happy when we played Midland,” McDermott said. “Obviously he was very aggressive going to the basket (Wednesday).”
It will be interesting to see how opposing teams craft game plans defensively going forward. Do they sag way off Jefferson (4 of 24 from 3-point range) and Mahoney (5 of 20)? Can shorter closeouts nullify their ability to make plays going toward the rim?
Jefferson has averaged 13.0 points per game in his past three outings. Mahoney is at 12.0 points per game since his debut Dec. 17.
For what it’s worth, both are better shooters than they’ve shown. But even without the jumper, their attacking mentality — if sustained — certainly will add another dimension to Creighton’s offense.
Other observations from the Creighton-Marquette game are below:
» The Jays surrendered 13 offensive rebounds, but they ended up with the same amount of second-chance points (13) as the Golden Eagles. Said McDermott: “When they got a rebound, we got our defense set.”
» Creighton scored 15 points on its 12 possessions directly following a timeout Wednesday. And on one of those empty trips, CU drew up an isolation play for Mahoney, who drew Howard’s fourth foul. The execution was at a high level for CU.
» The eight free-throw attempts for Marquette were a season low. Howard, who leads the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, went 4 of 4 from the line Wednesday. He shot 24 free throws and made 20 in two games against CU last year.
» Creighton’s steal rate for the season doesn’t jump off the page when compared to its peers. CU records a steal on 9.6% of its defensive possessions — that ranks 143rd nationally, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics. But if it holds, that would be the highest rate in McDermott’s 10-year tenure. A new attribute, perhaps. The Bluejays are pretty good at getting their hands in passing lanes and poking the ball away from drivers (without rim protection, they kind of have to be). They had 10 steals against Marquette.
» The Jays’ current eight-game winning streak is their longest since they began the 2016-17 season with a 13-0 record. It’s tied for the fifth-longest active winning streak in the country. Creighton’s current 15-game home winning streak is tied for seventh longest in the nation.