Greg McDermott

Greg McDermott wants his team to focus on what's at stake in the second half of the Big East schedule. "Our goal is to win this league," McDermott said.

Creighton’s players were about to empty out of the locker room before Saturday’s game at Villanova when coach Greg McDermott brought up one of the team’s long-term goals.

Like most squads in the competitive Big East, the Jays began league play aiming for a regular-season crown. That was a month ago, though.

At the midway point in conference action, CU has some catching up to do.

That was McDermott’s point in Philadelphia, before Creighton went out and earned a 76-61 victory over second-place Villanova.

“It was my last message before they went on the floor. I was like, ‘We can’t allow any more separation,’ ” McDermott said on his postgame radio show Saturday. “Our goal is to win this league, and we’ve let a couple games get away. ... We couldn’t fall any farther behind.”

He may very well repeat the same message ahead of CU’s road game against Providence (12-10, 5-4) Wednesday night.

The Jays (17-5, 6-3) sit in third place in the Big East. They’re one game back of Villanova (17-4, 7-2) and two behind first-place Seton Hall (16-5, 8-1).

The Pirates do still have to play two games against both the Wildcats and the Jays. Villanova’s at Butler on Wednesday — and it finishes the season with four of its final six games on the road. So the teams ahead of Creighton could still very well take on some losses.

But CU has to keep pace to have a shot at its first-ever Big East regular-season title. The highest the Jays have ever finished was second in 2014.

“We’re right where we need to be,” McDermott said. “Now we just need to carry this momentum into the second half of league play.”

That’s been the challenge. The last two times Creighton has been 6-3 in conference action at the turn — in 2017 and 2018 — it finished the Big East season with a 4-5 mark, tying for third in both instances. The Jays started 8-1 in 2014, only to go 6-3 in the second half of league play and finish two games back of first-place Villanova.

This year’s CU squad wants more.

But that’s the big-picture objective. To get there, the Jays have to focus on maximizing each practice and each film session, according to junior guard Mitch Ballock. They aren’t where they need to be yet, he said.

“This could be a year where we do something special if we just figure out those little details that we’re missing to jump the last hurdle,” Ballock said. “We’re not at our ceiling.”

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