Creighton-S. Illinois Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- Coming off back-to-back losses, Creighton is surely getting tired of watching its opponents celebrate on their own court.
The Bluejays have to like their chances of snapping that trend with a visit to Southern Illinois in store.
Looking to get back on track, No. 17 Creighton tries for a 10th consecutive victory over the woeful Salukis on Sunday night.
The Bluejays (17-3, 6-2 Missouri Valley) had won 11 straight by an average of 17.6 points before falling 67-64 at conference-leading Wichita State last Saturday. While that result didn't come as a total shock, Wednesday's 74-69 loss at Drake surely raised some eyebrows.
Creighton shot a season-worst 5 of 21 (23.8 percent) from 3-point range in losing to the Bulldogs, who entered with a 2-5 conference record.
"We're disappointed. We expect to win every game you play," said coach Greg McDermott, whose team is shooting a Division I-best 44.1 percent from beyond the arc. "We as a coaching staff need to do a better job of getting our team to understand how much one possession can mean. Because essentially we lost two one-possession games."
Doug McDermott, the coach's son who is averaging 23.8 points to rank second in the country, played through the flu Wednesday and scored 17 of his 19 points over the first 20 minutes. The Bluejays erased a 16-point halftime deficit but couldn't keep up down the stretch with the reigning MVC player of the year at less than full strength.
"It's an effort thing. It's a concentration thing, and it's unacceptable for us to come out and play like that," said senior Grant Gibbs, who scored a season-high 18 points. "We've just got to change our attitude."
While frustrations appear to be taking their toll, a matchup against the Salukis (8-11, 1-7) could be coming at just the right time. The Bluejays have won all nine meetings since Jan. 26, 2008, and have proven especially dominant in this series of late, taking each of the last three matchups by 19 points.
In its most recent meeting with Southern Illinois, Creighton shot a remarkable 77.5 percent to break a conference record in an 88-69 road win Feb. 14. McDermott and center Gregory Echenique combined for 33 points on 11-of-11 shooting for the Bluejays, who went 12 for 14 from 3-point range.
Having lost eight of nine, the last-place Salukis could face an even tougher time without Jeff Early. The senior guard, averaging 12.7 points and 7.5 boards, received a one-game suspension from the league for committing a flagrant-2 foul Wednesday in a 58-45 loss at Northern Iowa. He was ejected 13:02 in the second half.
"Certainly, that concerns me - (Creighton's) ability to make perimeter shots," coach Barry Hinson said. "The biggest thing that concerns me is how we're going to respond with the absence of Jeff.
"That's going to be a challenge for us. When you take your second-leading scorer and leading rebounder out of the ball game, and you're already short-handed, how do we collectively take care of that?"
Senior Desmar Jackson is averaging a team-high 16.3 points for Southern Illinois, off to its worst start in conference play since going 0-16 in 1981.
While the Salukis have dropped eight straight against Top 25 foes by an average of 15.2 points, they were able to stay close in an 82-76 loss at then-No. 23 Wichita State on Jan. 9.
Updated January 26, 2013