The 21st-ranked Creighton Bluejays get back to Missouri Valley Conference work on Wednesday evening, as they welcome the Missouri State Bears to the CenturyLink Center.
Greg McDermott's Bluejays have received plenty of national attention this season and have set up shop in the top-25, coming into this contest with a stellar 18-3 overall mark. However, back-to-back conference losses to Wichita State and Drake on the road has left Creighton a game behind the Shockers in the conference standings at 7-2. The Bluejays were able to end the skein this past weekend with an emphatic 81-51 rout of Southern Illinois in Carbondale. The Bluejays are now back in Omaha, where they sport an 11-1 record at home this season.
Paul Lusk's Bears are struggling in his second season at the helm. Missouri State enters play with a 6-15 overall record, including a 4-5 mark in conference play. The team was able to finally bring an end to a four-game skein on Sunday with a 78-72 victory over Drake at home. The Bears have just one true road win this season in eight attempts.
Creighton holds a narrow 32-28 lead in the all-time series with Missouri State, but the Bears have closed the gap with wins in six of the last eight meetings, including two straight in Omaha. However, it is the Bluejays seeking the regular-season sweep after posting a 74-52 romp over the Bears back on Jan. 11.
The good news for the Bears is that they are coming into this game off one of their best performances of the season, as they delivered on a season-high 56.3 percent from the floor, overcoming a 10-point deficit in the second half to earn the come-from-behind victory. Anthony Downing was phenomenal in the win, matching a career-high with 26 points. Keith Pickins poured in 19 points off the bench, while Marcus Marshall finished with 12.
The team's strong performance against Drake has not been consistent enough on the year, as Missouri State comes into this game with a -3.7 scoring margin. The real problem has been a lack of scoring depth. The Bears are averaging just 60.2 ppg and doing so on a lackluster .406 shooting. Downing has been the only real reliable scoring threat, pacing the team with 14.7 ppg. Marshall is a distant second on the squad at 9.9 ppg.
Smarting from consecutive losses, Creighton made light work of the Salukis on Sunday in a 30-point romp. The Bluejays put the game away early, shooting a ridiculous 73.9 percent from the floor in the first half and settling on 63 percent from the floor overall, including 12-of-20 from behind the arc. All- American Doug McDermott led five Bluejays in double figures, with 21 points. He completed a double-double with 10 rebounds. Grant Gibbs added 13 points in support, followed by Gregory Echenique, Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge, who posted 12 points apiece. Echenique joined McDermott with a double-double of his own, grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds.
McDermott is clearly the straw that stirs the drink in Omaha, as the 6-8 senior is shooting .564 from the floor overall, .500 from 3-point range (44- of-88) and is averaging 23.7 points (second nationally) and 7.2 rebounds per game. Echenique isn't the flashy scorer McDermott is at just 10.0 ppg, but he does lead the team in rebounding (7.5 rpg), blocked shots (36) and ranks among the nation's best in field-goal percentage (.664). Wragge (8.9 ppg) and Gibbs (8.1 ppg, 6.0 apg) are valuable assets as well. Creighton is averaging 78.6 ppg this season on the strength of the nation's best field-goal percentage (.519) and 3-point accuracy (.448).