Evansville, IN – Knocked down a few of pegs in the latest 25 poll, the Creighton Bluejays now head to Evansville ranked as the 17th- best team in the nation as they clash with the Purple Aces in Missouri Valley Conference action tonight at the Ford Center.
Since losing to Missouri State in the conference opener back on December 28, the Bluejays had put together a sizeable 11-game win streak which was one of the longest in Division I, but that all came crashing down over the weekend. On Saturday afternoon, Creighton was stumped by Northern Iowa on the road, 65-62, which means the Jays are now 11-2 in MVC play and that has them tied with Wichita State at the top of the league standings entering the week.
As for the Purple Aces, in a span of just three days the team went to the extremes and have now lost three of their last four outings. Six days ago, the squad leveled Bradley on the road by a score of 92-62, but then on Saturday Evansville was halted by Southern Illinois in a 53-52 final and that has the team now staring at a 6-7 conference record, which has them tied with Northern Iowa and Drake for fifth place at the moment.
The Jays are comfortably ahead in the all-time series with Evansville, posting 25 wins in 34 opportunities. The Aces have certainly played better in their own building over the years with seven victories, but still Creighton has won the last three on the road. Overall, the Bluejays have taken six in a row, including a 75-69 final in the most recent matchup last season.
Aside from a single 60-56 win for Evansville at home back in 2008, the series has been dominated by the Jays (12-1) since 2005. The teams are set to meet on Creighton's home floor two weeks from now to complete the season series.
Doug McDermott put together a solid double-double for the Bluejays with 18 points and 12 rebounds, yet he didn't lead his own team in either category exclusively and that should have been reason enough to believe it wasn't Creighton's day on Saturday. Matching McDermott on the glass was Gregory Echenique, and surpassing him in the scoring department was Antoine Young who dropped in 23 points, shooting 9-of-21 from the floor, as the group made good on 42.1 percent from the field and just 5-of-16 behind the three-point line. McDermott, one of the top scorers in the country (23.4 ppg) who is widely considered a candidate for player of the year honors on a national scale, is one of the hardest players to cover for a defense because he is equally as dangerous in the paint with his 8.4 rpg as he is out on the perimeter with a staggering 51.3 percent shooting from three-point range. Because of his efforts, the Jays as a whole are making good on 44.8 percent beyond the arc as they net an average of 81.0 ppg.
Over the course of just a few days, the Purple Aces had their scoring output nearly cut in half as they fell to SIU in Carbondale, shooting just 18-of-44 from the floor which means they finished with just two more made baskets than they had turnovers. Colt Ryan posted 13 points and Kenny Harris another 10 for the Aces, the former accounting for two of the unit's four three-point baskets. Ryan has been the leading scorer for the team in each of the last three games and five of the last six contests, his 20.8 ppg making him one of the top overall performers in the MVC this season. Not only does Ryan connect at 43.2 percent behind the three-point line, he is also one of the team leaders with 71 assists and 4.5 rpg, doing everything he can to make Evansville successful. Unfortunately, with the defense giving up 72.3 ppg and the offense posting 74.1 ppg, Ryan and his teammates don't leave much room for error.