OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Gregory Echenique’s dunk off an alley-oop pass didn’t just shake the backboard.
The big play also allowed No. 16 Creighton to shake pesky Indiana State.
Echenique’s slam off Grant Gibbs’ pass fueled a 19-4 run that broke open a close game in the second half and carried the Bluejays to a 79-66 victory Saturday.
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“Coach mentioned if it was there to go for it,” Echenique said. “Obviously, Grant has good vision. He can pass the ball, so he saw it and we kind of connected. He knew I was there.”
Doug McDermott had 25 points and nine rebounds, but the returning All-America was on the bench with three fouls as the Bluejays pulled away in a game that had 10 lead changes and nine ties.
The Bluejays (14-1, 3-0) have won eight straight and are off to their best start in Missouri Valley Conference play since 2003-04.
The Sycamores (9-5, 2-1) lost for the 14th straight time in Omaha since 1999.
Echenique had 16 points and nine rebounds to just miss his fourth double-double in eight games. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior scored inside to tie it 51-51 with 10 minutes left before he teamed up with Gibbs for the big dunk.
“Honestly, it happened so fast,” Echenique said. “I think we just clicked. Momentum went our way and we kept on rolling. Sometimes you get that one big play that gets the guys some energy and everybody feeds off that. After a big play, you probably defend a little harder, run a little faster. That gave us that boost to get that big run.”
Jake Odum and Manny Arop scored 13 points apiece and Justin Gant added 12 for the Sycamores, who made just 9 of 18 free throws in the second half.
Creighton hadn’t trailed in any of its previous three home games against Indiana State, and it had won by double digits in six straight meetings.
The Sycamores, picked to finish seventh in the preseason Valley poll, came in off wins in their first two conference games for the first time since 2007-08. They didn’t trail by more than single digits against Creighton until less than 7 minutes remained.
“We didn’t have enough today for an unbelievably talented team,” Sycamores coach Greg Lansing said. “We were hanging around in there, kind of hanging by the skin of our teeth. We just didn’t do the things we really needed to do at either end of the court to beat an outstanding team. You give Creighton all the credit in the world. They took it to us down the stretch and are an awfully good team.”
Odum, the Sycamores’ season scoring leader, made a wide-open 3 from the wing to break a 32-32 tie after missing 6 of his first 7 shots. Justin Gant gave the Sycamores a 39-32 lead, their biggest of the game.
Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge knocked down consecutive 3s to tie it 40-40, and the teams kept trading baskets until the Bluejays went on their decisive run.
McDermott went to the bench with his team trailing 44-41. Over the 5 minutes McDermott was on the bench, the Bluejays erased the deficit and forged ahead 56-52.
“Doug’s a fabulous player, but we’re more than a one-man show,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
Wragge made 3 of 6 3-pointers after going 6 of 9 in a 79-72 win at Illinois State. The Bluejays were 11 of 22 from long range against the Sycamores and have made 36 of 71 from beyond the arc in their first three Valley games.
“Ethan Wragge would start for every other team at our level, and a lot of teams above our level,” Greg McDermott said. “He’s that good. When you have a season like we’re having so far and the one we had last year, you have to have guys like that who are willing to check their ego at the door and embrace their role.
“I think Ethan adds such an element. Other teams are scared, and they don’t want to leave him. So that creates some openings inside.”