Omaha, NE (SportsNetwork.com) - The 23rd-ranked Creighton Bluejays will try to conclude their season-opening five-game homestand at CenturyLink Center Omaha undefeated on Tuesday night when they tangle with the Eastern Illinois Panthers as part of the Emerald Coast Classic.
EIU has gotten off to a sluggish start to the season at just 1-3. The Panthers most recently ventured to Cincinnati on Sunday and fought hard with the Bearcats before suffering a 54-49 setback.
The Bluejays, meanwhile, have soared in the early going with four straight wins to open up the campaign, most notably against nationally-ranked Oklahoma on Nov. 19, 65-63. Creighton made easy work of NC Central on Sunday, 65-45.
The programs have met just twice in their histories, splitting a pair of games in the early 1990s.
The Panthers were locked up in a tight battle with Cincinnati earlier in the week, but trailing by one midway through the second half, they fell victim to a 10-2 Bearcats' run to lose control. They stayed competitive thanks to strong defense, as they forced Cincinnati into 19 turnovers, but they couldn't take advantage on the other end by shooting less than 30 percent from the field. Reggie Smith and Trae Anderson both scored 12 points in the setback, while Chris Oliver added 11 points.
EIU has established a similar theme on the season, as it holds opponents to under 40 percent field goal shooting and 58.0 ppg but boasts poor offensive numbers itself (.395 FG percentage, 61.0 ppg). Chris Oliver (13.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg) has been one of the few offensive bright spots, as he shoots 55.8 percent from the field. Anderson (10.3 ppg) is the only other player in double figures but only manages to shoot 32.6 percent from the floor.
Creighton had no issue taking down the favorites of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference on Sunday in a 20-point victory. Despite shooting a lowly 35.3 percent from the field, it knocked down 22-of-25 from the free-throw line while forcing NCCU into nearly as many turnovers (17) as field goals (19). Isaiah Zierden provided a spark off the bench with 20 points on 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and 8-of-9 at the free-throw line. Devin Brooks chipped in with nine points and Austin Chatman and Will Artino netted nine points apiece.
The Bluejays are typically a much more efficient offensive squad, as they shoot 42.2 percent from the field for 79.5 ppg this season. They have also impressed on the defensive end of the court, allowing just 62.8 ppg while owning a +5.3 turnover margin. Zierden has knocked down 14-of-30 from 3-point range in the early going en route to his team-high 16.3 ppg. Artino (11.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Chatman (10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Brooks (9.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) are also integral pieces.