Illinois St.-Creighton Preview
Creighton was hoping for a rematch with the regular season Missouri Valley Conference champions after getting routed by them last month. Instead, the only thing standing between the 25th-ranked Bluejays and their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007 is Illinois State.
Creighton goes for a seventh consecutive victory – and third over the Redbirds this season – in Sunday's MVC championship in St. Louis.
The Bluejays (27-5) only dropped consecutive games once this season - a three-game skid that culminated Feb. 11 in an 89-68 home defeat to then-unranked Wichita State.
Creighton, which defeated third-seeded Evansville 99-71 on Saturday, had been hoping - and perhaps expecting - a rematch in the tournament finals with the No. 15 Shockers. That possibility disappeared when Tyler Brown's 25 points helped Illinois State (20-12) erase a 13-point second-half deficit and knock off top-seeded Wichita State 65-64 in Saturday's other semifinal.
"I think everybody on our team would want Wichita in the finals,'' Creighton guard Antoine Young said. "That would have been nice, but it is what it is. It's just another opportunity to go out and prove ourselves.''
The Bluejays will now face the Redbirds for the seventh time in the conference tournament, and first since a 73-49 Illinois State victory in the 2009 semifinals.
Creighton should enter Sunday's matchup with plenty of confidence and energy following Saturday's one-sided affair. Conference player of the year Doug McDermott scored 14 points in 23 minutes, while Young logged just 20 minutes.
"It worked out great, we got a win and we didn't play guys 27 minutes,'' said coach Greg McDermott, whose team is going for a record 11th MVC tournament title.
No Creighton starter played more than 28 minutes Feb. 1 in a 102-74 rout of Illinois State in Omaha. McDermott scored 17 of his 25 points in the first half as the Blue Jays posted their fourth consecutive victory in this series, and season-high 11th straight win overall.
Nonetheless, with so much at stake Creighton is not going to overlook the Redbirds. Especially since Illinois State had a chance to tie the game in the final minute in an 87-78 loss to the Bluejays in Normal on Jan. 13.
"They're very streaky,'' Creighton center Gregory Echenique said Saturday after scoring a season-high 20 points and pulling down nine rebounds. "They can be a dangerous team and they obviously showed that today. I feel like we match up well and we'll be ready.''
Illinois State forward Jackie Carmichael posted his third consecutive double-double Saturday with 12 points and 11 rebounds. He has totaled 20 points and 10 boards versus Creighton this season.
Redbirds guard Bryant Allen scored a career-high 29 points Jan. 13 and finished with 17 in last month's loss to Creighton. The sophomore is 8 for 13 from 3-point range and 15 of 23 from the field overall against the Bluejays in 2011-12.
Creighton has shot 56.8 percent overall - 53.4 percent from beyond the arc - in the two matchups.
Illinois State had lost 24 in a row to ranked opponents before Saturday's win - their first over a team in the Top 25 since 1987. Another upset Sunday would put the fourth-seeded Redbirds in their first NCAA tournament since 1998.