No. 12 Creighton surges into meeting with Loyola
OMAHA, Neb. -- Having spent plenty of seasons as big game hunters, Creighton coach Greg McDermott doesn't mind that the Bluejays have become a team others would like to knock off.
Such is the life of a Big East Conference basketball team that began the season ranked in the Top 25 and jumped 10 spots in one week after soundly defeating Wisconsin and three other foes from Power 5 conferences.
"We're in a league now where we've had an opportunity to play a number of ranked teams, so we've been that team," McDermott said. "You have a little more juice, maybe a little more focus to your preparation because you realize you're playing a team that's ranked in the Top 25.
"We've been on both sides of it. We're the hunted right now, which is okay."
Creighton's last three victories came at the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands. Those wins moved the No. 12-ranked Bluejays to 5-0 ahead of Saturday's 3:30 p.m. CST game against Loyola (Md.) at CenturyLink Center.
The Greyhounds are 2-3 following a home victory Wednesday over Fairfield. Loyola's other victory came over Millersville.
The Jays passed their toughest test of the young season with their victory in Monday's Paradise Jam championship game by rallying in the second half for an 86-77 victory over Ole Miss. McDermott especially liked the way Creighton picked up the intensity on the boards in the final 20 minutes.
"I think the Ole Miss game was good for us," McDermott said. "We didn't play particularly well in the first half, and Ole Miss certainly had a lot to do with that. A few years ago, we beat Oklahoma, jumped into the Top 25 and we quickly disappeared and were never to be heard from again.
"It was good that we were able to back up a very emotional, huge win for our program with three pretty solid wins."
The tournament showed the Creighton faithful and future opponents what a weapon Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster can be in the backcourt. Foster was named the Paradise Jam MVP, and he scored 56 points in the Jays' three wins.
The Bluejays trailed at halftime as things weren't gelling offensively the way they had for the Jays in previous games, especially the 112-94 win over North Carolina State the previous night.
"The first half we weren't playing well as a team," McDermott said. "He single-handedly kept us in the game until we could get in the locker room and get some things figured out. Marcus gives us another guy who can make tough baskets. He can do it from the 3-point line with a guy in his face."
Foster is averaging 18 points and is one of five Jays averaging in double figures. The others are Khyri Thomas (14.2), Maurice Watson (12.6), Cole Huff (11.4) and Justin Patton (10.6).
Those numbers helped Creighton average 93.8 points per game, which ranks the Jays 17th nationally. They also are No. 4 in field goal percentage (.545) and second from 3-point territory (.508).