Redbirds and Bluejays mix it up in MVC action

Coming off just their fourth loss of the season, the 16th-ranked Creighton Bluejays will try to bounce back on Saturday night when they return home to CenturyLink Center for a Missouri Valley Conference clash with the Illinois State Redbirds.

Illinois State opened its MVC slate ice cold, losing each of its first six league matchups, but since that poor start it has been one of the hottest teams in the league. The Redbirds are winners of five of their last six games, most recently going on the road to down Drake on Wednesday night (94-86) to improve to 14-10 overall and 5-7 in the MVC.

Creighton put forth its most lackluster effort of the season on Wednesday night at Indiana State, getting blown out by a 76-57 margin for its third loss in its last four road games. Despite the recent run of bad luck, the Bluejays are still 20-4 overall and in first place in the MVC (9-3), and they have won 13 of 14 games played in Omaha this season.

Creighton defeated Illinois State on the road on Jan. 2, 79-72. The Bluejays have won six games in the row in the series, but the Redbirds still have the advantage all-time, 40-30.

The Redbirds trailed Drake by double-digits at the half on Wednesday night, but they got hot after intermission, shooting 50 percent from the field and 22-of-24 from the foul line as they claimed the shootout victory. Tyler Brown was fantastic in the win, scoring 25 points and handing out a career-high nine assists. Jackie Carmichael was also strong with 23 points, while John Wilkins poured in 18. Bryant Allen netted 12 points, and Johnny Hill rounded out a great effort by the starting five with nine points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Although Illinois State has been plagued this season by the second- worst scoring defense in the MVC (68.6 ppg), it has been able to make up for it by netting the second-most points at the other end of the floor (76.0 ppg). Carmichael is one of the strongest forwards in the conference, shooting 53.6 percent from the field for 18.1 ppg, while leading the league in both rebounding (9.3 rpg) and blocks (2.0 bpg). Brown has been a great complement to Carmichael out on the perimeter, hitting for 16.0 ppg on the strength of his 48 3-pointers.

Creighton has one of the most prolific offenses in the country, averaging 78.0 ppg while leading the nation in both field goal percentage (.517) and 3-point percentage (.443), but it could not get anything going in its 19-point loss to Indiana State earlier in the week as it made only 41.7 percent of its field goal attempts, including 5-of-18 from beyond the arc. The only player to reach double figures was Will Artino, who connected on all five of his shots for 13 points. Doug McDermott had an off night, shooting just 3-of-10 from the field for eight points, but he has pieced together an All-American-worthy season for the Bluejays. Not only is he shooting better than 50 percent from both the floor and from long range in averaging 23.3 ppg (second in the nation), but he has also gone 117-of-135 from the foul line (.867) and grabs a team-best 7.3 rpg to boot. No other Creighton player averages double figures, but Gregory Echenique, Ethan Wragge, Austin Chatman and Grant Gibbs all net between 8.1 and 9.9 ppg, with Chatman and Gibbs combining for 250 assists against 92 turnovers.