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Thursday, February 14, 2013
Struggling Creighton's NCAA hopes on tenterhooks

Associated Press

(Eds: Updates.)

By ERIC OLSON

AP Sports Writer

OMAHA, Neb. -- The Creighton team once pegged to make a deep postseason run suddenly is no lock to even make the NCAA tournament.

The Bluejays (20-6) have lost three straight and five of their last eight, and they fell out of the Top 25 this week after being ranked No. 12 a month ago.

Coach Greg McDermott said his players face the choice of wallowing in self-pity or dedicating themselves to regaining the form that earned wins in 17 of their first 18 games.

"The world doesn't care if you fail. They don't," McDermott said. "There's no time to feel sorry for yourself. We've got important games ahead, an important one Saturday at Evansville. We have to use all the energy we have to get ourselves back in a better frame of mind."

The 61-54 loss at Northern Iowa this week followed a 75-72 home loss to Illinois State and an embarrassing 76-57 defeat at Indiana State. Fortunately for Creighton, no one has run off with the Missouri Valley Conference race.

The Bluejays (9-5 MVC) are tied with Indiana State for second place, one game behind a Wichita State team that has won two straight after a three-game losing streak of its own. Indiana State has lost to eighth- and ninth-place Missouri State and Drake the past two weeks.

Creighton plays three of its last five on the road, including one at surging Saint Mary's next week. That game, plus the finale at home against Wichita State, could be huge for the Bluejays to enhance their position for an at-large bid if they don't win the Valley tournament.

"We have to keep our attitude and work through this," senior Grant Gibbs said. "We can't point fingers now. That's not going to help us. We've got to stick together."

Doug McDermott remains the NCAA's No. 2 scorer at 23 points a game, and he's averaged 20.8 over the past eight games. But he's disappeared when the Bluejays have needed him most.

Against Drake, McDermott started feeling ill at halftime and scored two of his 19 points in the second half. He finished with just eight points against Indiana State, but all came in the first half and he took only one shot in the second.

He didn't take another shot after missing a 3-pointer with 4:22 left in a close game against Illinois State. Northern Iowa committed to denying McDermott the ball in the second half and held him to three points after he scored 12 the first 20 minutes. He didn't score in the second half until he made a free throw with 1:24 left. His other two points came on a dunk just before the buzzer.

The Bluejays remain the nation's top-shooting team, at 51 percent overall and 42.3 percent on 3-pointers. But when opponents have clamped down on McDermott and Gregory Echenique in the post, their teammates haven't been able to convert consistently from the perimeter.

About 40 percent of Creighton's shots have come from behind the 3-point line, and the Bluejays are a combined 27.6 percent from that distance in the last five losses.

Jahenns Manigat, who made 44 percent of his 3s during the 17-1 start, has made 30 percent since. Ethan Wragge is shooting 32.4 percent on 3s after making 46 percent through 18 games. Gibbs, a primary ball-handler, has committed 28 turnovers the past eight games after coughing up the ball 26 times the first 18.

It doesn't help the Bluejays' cause that Missouri Valley appears a bit down this season. The league received two NCAA bids last season (Creighton, Wichita State) but might not get more than the one it had each year from 2008-11.

"It's a strange year, without question," Greg McDermott said. "It's proven out that anybody can beat anybody, and when you think you've got it figured out, you might as well start over. I think it's going to be an interesting ride the rest of the year."