by Patrick ‘Rey’ Reynell
Creighton (27-7, 13-5) displayed its versatile tools as it slipped by Wichita State (26-8, 12-6) 68-65 for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship on Sunday. In doing so, the Jays proved that they can sustain a formidable attack even when its All-American forward, Doug McDermott, struggles from the field.
The 6’8″ forward shot 5-13 from the field and 4-5 from the line for 14 points. Despite his struggles and being plagued with two early fouls, McDermott never stopped trying to take advantage of match-ups.
When matched-up with a slower defender like Jake White, McDermott set solid screens back-side and would then flare out for an open look. Though he was 0-3 from beyond the arc, McDermott is known for being a stretch power forward who can knock down the long ball. He shot 51% from three in the regular season while shooting nearly 5 a game.
When defended with a quicker player like Carl Hall or Cleanthony Early, McDermott would bring his action back to the ball-side block. He took the opportunity to use his 225-pound frame to post-up his equals. Most of his field goals came with his back-to-the-basket.
McDermott’s ability to morph into a stretch four or a post-up option for the Jays makes them more than a formidable team in the tournament to defend. And keep in kind that Wichita State, a former top-25 team ranked outside the top-100 offensively, has made its living this season on defense. In the last regular season meeting with the Shockers, McDermott scored 41 points as Creighton prevailed 91-79.
Besides their All-American forward, Creighton displayed other tools that could lead to a deep tournament run. It turns out that McDermott is not the only stretch forward the Jays boast. While McDermott sat for minutes at a time in the first half, 6’7″ reserve forward Ethan Wragge took his place on the floor and did not disappoint.
Wragge stepped in and shot 5-9 from downtown finishing with 15 points, good for double his season average. Point guard Austin Chatman continuously found Wragge off of quick ball reversals as Wragge’s defender was often stuck in the lane helping on possible penetration.
Chatman finished with 7 assists and 1 turnover. Though he only finished with 1 point, Chatman always made the possessions active with his constant attacking and ball movement. The high ball-screen action between Chatman and starting center Gregory Echinque consistently challenged Wichita State’s defensive rotation and recovery back-side. The 6’9″ 260-pound center controlled the paint with 11 of Creighton’s 36 rebounds. Echinque’s size proved troublesome for stronger defenders like Hall.
Most surprising this late in the season for Creighton was guard Jahenns Manigat‘s season-high and team-high 16 points, 10 above his season average. He shot 4-8 from three and showed no hesitation. That kind of shooting confidence, along with 11 points from the other guard Grant Gibbs, gives Creighton the ability to stretch defenses from four positions on the floor.
The only weakness Creighton has its eight-man rotation. Other than Wragge, the Jays only used 13 minutes from reserves Will Artino and Avery Dingman. Creighton’s frontcourt was decidedly weaker with Artino in the game, and the Shockers low post presences took advantage.
If this Creighton team, which returned everyone from last year, can perform this well and keep its starters out of foul trouble, it is possible that the Jays could march much further than once expected. The win gave the Jays an automatic bid; more importantly, however, Sunday proved to the Jays that they are more than just Doug McDermott’s sidekicks.