OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Avery Dingman’s opportunity didn’t come the way he wanted it to, but he sure took advantage of it.
The sophomore guard played the best game of his career in No. 17 Creighton’s 71-54 victory over Tulsa on Wednesday night. He set personal highs with 21 points, five 3-pointers, three steals and 23 minutes.
Coach Greg McDermott needed Dingman to take some of the minutes that normally would be played by Josh Jones, who is out indefinitely with a heart condition.
“Josh was playing over 20 minutes a game, so those minutes had to go somewhere,” Dingman said. “I talked to coach Mac about it. He’s been getting on me and I’ve been ready. It’s unfortunate not having Josh here, but somebody has got to step up, and I’m trying to play some big minutes.”
Dingman was good on his first seven shots and scored 14 points in the second half to help the Bluejays (11-1) stave off Tulsa’s comeback. He also had three rebounds.
“I tried to come in the game and give us a little energy,” Dingman said. “It seemed like we were a little flat to start. We seemed like we were a step slow and we were turning it over a lot. I tried to come in and provide some energy. I got a couple quick steals, and defense transitioned to offense.”
Doug McDermott overcame a slow start to score 16 points, and Gregory Echenique added 15 points and eight rebounds in Creighton’s fifth straight win.
James Woodard had 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead Tulsa (6-5), which shot 38 percent and committed a season-high 25 turnovers.
“It kind of snowballed on us,” Golden Hurricane coach Danny Manning said. “We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball. Creighton’s defense was pretty good and caused some of those turnovers. There are times we need to be stronger with the basketball.”
Doug McDermott, averaging 23.7 points and coming off games of 30 and 34 points, was just 4 of 9 from the field but made 7 of 8 free throws.
The visitors from Conference USA, who trailed by 22 points in the middle of the second half, got a 3 from Scottie Haralson and two free throws from Woodard to cut the deficit to 12 with 5:03 left.
McDermott’s two free throws and Dingman’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 64-47 with 4 minutes left.
Echenique’s performance helped offset an otherwise miserable start for the Bluejays, who turned the ball over six times in the first 6 minutes and 10 times in the opening half.
The Bluejays finished with 17 turnovers and 19 fouls.
“That’s not what we’ve been about,” Greg McDermott said.
He said the first 10 minutes of the game reminded him of the Bluejays’ rocky start against Boise State, the only team to beat Creighton.
“The difference is we defended a little better tonight, particularly the first 14, 15 minutes of the game when we built the lead,” he said. “I didn’t think we played very well and still won by 17.”
With his parents from Venezuela watching him in person for the first time this season, Echenique scored 10 of the Bluejays’ first 14 points.
“I’m happy they’re here,” Echenique said, “but I try to block all that stuff out. I don’t even look into the crowd. I was trying to play my game and stay focused. Sometimes if you let a lot of the outside stuff get to you, it can take you out of your game.”
The 6-foot-9, 260-pounder had two thunderous dunks early. The second came after Zeldric King, whose momentum carried him out of bounds along the baseline, tried to throw the ball off of Dingman’s leg. Dingman made a sudden move, causing King to miss, and Echenique picked up the ball and slammed it in.
Doug McDermott was trying to become the first Creighton player with three straight 30-point games since Benoit Benjamin in 1985.
McDermott, who had 35 points in a win over Tulsa last season, drew lots of attention from the Hurricane and seemed out of sync until he hit a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Bluejays up 46-28 with 13:35 left.
Kauri Black held McDermott in check for much of the game, but at one point four defenders swarmed him after he took an entry pass. He missed five of his first six shots and was held to five points in the first half.
Greg McDermott said he had challenged Dingman and other guards to make 200 3-pointers a day the past two weeks.
“With that preparation comes confidence,” he said. “There was an opportunity when Josh went down. He stepped into that role. He made a couple nice aggressive plays to the basket as well.”
Heavy snow in eastern Nebraska held the crowd to about 6,000 (15,102 paid). In the middle of the first half, the public-address announcer asked fans in the upper balcony to take unoccupied seats in the lower bowl — a rare invitation at an arena in which attendance averages better than 16,000 a game.