No doubting Thomas as No. 20 Creighton visits Seton Hall

NEWARK, N.J. — Since star point guard Mo Watson suffered a season-ending knee injury in mid-January, Khyri Thomas has done a nice job filling the void and running the show for No. 20 Creighton.

Watson, the nation’s active assists leader, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Creighton’s 72-67 victory at Xavier on Jan. 16. Thomas, a sophomore from Omaha, made the transition from shooting guard to point guard seamlessly in Watson’s absence.

The Bluejays (21-4, 8-4 Big East) meet Seton Hall (15-9, 5-7) at the Prudential Center on Wednesday.

Thomas averaged 15.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists with a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the past four games.

He produced 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds in Creighton’s 93-58 victory over DePaul on Saturday. He also held DePaul’s top scorer, Eli Cain, to five points on 2-of-9 shooting. For the season, Thomas leads Creighton in steals and is second on the team in rebounds, assists, and blocks.

“Besides everything happening on the floor, his (Thomas) leadership has elevated as well,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He’s speaking his mind more. He’s encouraging and being demanding defensively with his teammates, which he can do because of the effort he gives each and every possession.

“He’s changed for the better in almost every aspect of the game, and a lot of has taken place the last three weeks. His game has changed for the better. His shooting percentage is more consistent. His ball-handling and his assist-to-turnover ratio since Maurice went down has been outstanding. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”

Creighton is 10-1 away from home (7-1 road, 3-0 neutral), outscoring opponents by an average of 12.3 points per game. The Bluejays are shooting 45.3 percent from 3-point range in road/neutral games, while holding foes to 29.1 percent from deep.

Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster (17.8 points) leads the Bluejays in scoring, and is averaging the most points by a Bluejays newcomer since Cyril Baptiste in 1969-70. He’s scored 12 points or more in all but two games.

The Bluejays, who are second in the Big East behind Villanova, face a desperate Seton Hall team that is trying to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

The Pirates lost six of their last nine games, but play their next three games at home, where they are 9-1, starting with Creighton. No. 2 Villanova visits Saturday followed by Xavier on Feb. 22.

“We still have a great opportunity in front of us,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said after Saturday’s loss to St. John’s. “We have three great teams at home. … We have to step up to the challenge.”

Seton Hall features the best big man in the Big East Conference in the form of 6-10 junior Angel Delgado. He’s the nation’s top rebounder with 13.0 per game, and has 6.3 more per game than any other player in the conference.

The biggest struggle offensively for the Pirates this season comes at the free-throw line. The team is shooting 62 percent from the stripe, but 72.5 percent over the last three games.

Seton Hall leads the series 10-5.