Published November 20, 2014
North Texas' Tony Mitchell played Creighton's Doug McDermott to a draw, but the Mean Green couldn't keep up with the 16th-ranked Bluejays in a season-opening 71-51 loss Friday night.
Mitchell, projected to be a possible lottery pick if he decides to turn pro after the season, finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.
McDermott, the returning All-American, had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
About a dozen NBA scouts were among the 17,139 at CenturyLink Center.
"It wasn't a one-on-one matchup," Mitchell said. "This was Creighton against North Texas. I wasn't looking at it like that. I just wanted to win the game. We didn't do that tonight. We're going to come back strong. It's a long season, and we're ready."
Tony Benford, a Marquette assistant for four years before replacing Johnny Jones at North Texas, lost in his head coaching debut.
"I've been doing this 21 years," Benford said. "I know it's my first time as a head coach, but I just tried to prepare our team and make sure they were ready to play. We played a quality opponent. It was a great opportunity for us to come in here and see where we're at."
Creighton led 39-25 at half and opened the second half on a 14-5 run, with Avery Dingman making back-to-back 3-pointers to stretch it to 53-30.
Austin Chatman added 11 points and reserve Avery Dingman had 10 for the Bluejays, who have won 39 straight November regular-season home games.
Creighton returned nine of its top 10 players from last season's 29-6 team, which won a game in the NCAA tournament. Seven of those players scored during a 26-12 first-half burst that broke open the game.
Bluejays coach Greg McDermott prodded his team to improve its defense after it ranked 222nd nationally in field-goal defense last season. The Mean Green, favored to win the Sun Belt Conference, shot 32 percent.
McDermott and Mitchell were teammates two summers ago on the U19 Team USA squad that played in Latvia and they remain friends.
McDermott, the 6-foot-8 junior, scored in double figures for a 37th straight game. He fought off double-teams to go 6 of 11 from the field, and he made all eight of his free throws.
Gregory Echenique was the primary defender assigned to Mitchell. The Bluejays tried to deny entry passes to him and trapped him regularly.
Mitchell's first points came after he stepped in front of a Chatman pass meant for Echenique and took it in for a rim-rattling dunk. He hit the Mean Green's only 3-pointer of the first half, batted away Andre Yates' shot in the lane for the first of his two blocks, then went down to the other end and scored on a dunk putback.
Mitchell picked up his fourth foul with 13 minutes left. By then, Missouri Valley Conference favorite Creighton led by 21 points, and it didn't matter that he sat out the next five minutes.
Advertised as the greatest athlete to come out of North Texas since "Mean" Joe Green of 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers fame, Mitchell was one of two freshmen to average a double-double last season. The other was national player of the year Anthony Davis of Kentucky.