Creighton coach Greg McDermott said he was ”scared to death” of Akron heading into their game on Sunday.
It turns out he had nothing to worry about.
Doug McDermott scored 20 of his 30 points in the first half, leading the 16th-ranked Bluejays to a 77-61 victory over the rusty Zips.
”This is a really good win,” Greg McDermott said. ”Come March it will be evident what a good win it is. Akron has played in six straight conference championship games.”
Doug McDermott was 10 for 15 from the field, including a 6-for-8 performance from beyond the arc. The six 3s set a career high for the junior, who also had 30 points against Wisconsin last month.
Gregory Echenique added nine points and seven rebounds for Creighton (9-1), which was in control in the second half, holding a double-digit lead for all but 12 seconds against its opponent from the Mid-American Conference.
Zeke Marshall and Nick Harney had 12 points apiece for Akron (4-3), which is 0-25 against ranked opponents since becoming a Division I program in 1980-81.
The Zips, who came in averaging almost 10 3-pointers a game, made a season-low four in 17 attempts and were held to their lowest point total of the season in only their second game in 20 days.
”You could see those two games in three weeks hurt us,” Akron coach Keith Dambrot said. ”We just didn’t have any juice and life.”
Creighton’s Grant Gibbs had eight assists and no turnovers to go along with his seven points and six rebounds. Gibbs has 27 assists and one turnover in his last three games.
”They’re kind of gimme assists. It’s not like I’m creating spectacular plays,” Gibbs said. ”It’s Doug coming off a down screen and I’m throwing it to him. I’m trying to make simple plays and get the ball to the guys who put the ball in the basket consistently.”
Creighton finished 10 of 22 from beyond the arc against an Akron team that had been allowing opponents to shoot 34.5 percent on 3s.
”We’re not going to win games like that,” Dambrot said.
McDermott’s best shot of the day wasn’t one of his long ones. Rather, it came after a defensive switch left the 7-foot Marshall on him.
McDermott bided his time with Marshall guarding him from behind. McDermott made a sudden move, shed Marshall and had a clear path to the basket for a layup. The smooth move brought many of the 16,310 fans to their feet.
”I felt really comfortable out there, not trying to do too much, and once I saw that 7-footer switched on me, I thought I could isolate him,” McDermott said. ”I’ve tried to work on my ballhandling as much as I can, and it’s finally starting to pay off.”
Two possessions later, McDermott had one of his four assists when he passed up a shot and found Gibbs in the lane for a dunk.
After Akron closed within three points late in the first half, the Bluejays used an 11-2 flurry that Will Artino finished with a jumper and tip-in for a 43-31 lead at the break.
The Bluejays never let Akron within nine points the rest of the way, but they gave the fans reason to stay.
Echenique delighted the crowd when he took the baseline on Marshall, faked hard to his left and then went right for a backboard-shaking dunk.
With the shot clock running down, McDermott snaked around Demetrius Treadwell for a slick left-handed scoop shot.
The Bluejays were without reserve Josh Jones for a second straight game. Jones fainted before Thursday’s game at Nebraska and has been undergoing medical tests. Jones, who watched the game in his warmups, had an infected heart valve replaced in 2007 during his senior year in high school.
It’s not known if, or when, Jones will return.
Jones spoke to the team Saturday and told the players filling his minutes that they have an opportunity to thrive in his absence.
”He’s like a brother to all of us,” Doug McDermott said. ”We’re playing for him. That one time you feel like you’re tired, you’re really not tired, because we’re fighting for him. That’s what he would be doing. He’s continued to stay real positive. That smile never comes off his face. So we’ll continue to fight through and hopefully get him back.”