Creighton Bluejays (20-6, 9-5) at Evansville Aces (14-12, 7-7)
Missouri Valley Conference Game 15/18
Game Time: 2 p.m. Saturday
Location: Ford Center
Broadcast: ESPN U, 91.5 WUEV
Spread: Creighton -5.5 at Vegas Insider
UE’s Probable Starters: G Troy Taylor, G Ned Cox, F Colt Ryan, F Lewis Jones, C Egidijus Mockevicius
Creighton’s Probable Starters: G Grant Gibbs, G Austin Chatman, G Jahenns Manigat, F Doug McDermott, C Gregory Echenique
Last Meeting: Creighton knocked off UE 87-70 in Omaha on Dec. 29.
Series History: Creighton leads 28-10 all-time but did lose to UE last season at the Ford Center. The Aces, while 2-16 when playing the Blujays on the road, are 8-10 at home.
Feb. 15: Aces get another shot at Creighton, this time at Ford Center
Feb. 15: Ryan is latest obstacle for slumping Bluejays
Feb. 14: Late-game failures puzzling Creighton
Feb. 14: Bluejays need the game in McDermott’s hands
Feb. 13: UE drops another on the road, this time to last-place Southern Illinois
—For as poorly as UE has played on the road, losing its last six decisions now with Wednesday’s defeat at Southern Illinois, the Aces have been that good at home. Coach Marty Simmons’ club is undefeated at the Ford Center in Missouri Valley Conference play and hasn’t lost there since a December defeat to Murray State.
—UE senior Colt Ryan is five points from tying and six from passing Marcus Wilson for second on the Aces’ all-time scoring list — also the top spot for players during the program’s Division I history. Ryan is 188 points from Larry Humes’ No. 1 total with a minimum six games left for the Aces this season.
—During Creighton’s current three-game losing streak, the nation’s top-shooting team (at 51 percent) has shot 40.7 percent from the field and 25 percent on 3-pointers. It may be a good time to face UE. In its seven MVC losses this season, the Aces have let opponents shoot 47.2 percent, including 40 percent from 3-point range.
—Creighton hasn’t lost four straight games since a skid from Dec. 23, 1999-Jan. 6, 2000. During that time, UE’s program suffered through 18 losing streaks at least four games long. The Bluejays also haven’t dropped four MVC games in a row since 1995.
—Per Creighton’s sports information department, Creighton junior Doug McDermott and UE freshman Egidijus Mockevicius have a history playing on the U-19 circuit — McDermott for the United States and Mockevicius for his native Lithuania.
—From Creighton’s staff: ”Prior to the U19 World Championship, both men faced each other in an exhibition game in Lithuania. McDermott had 15 points and seven rebounds, while Mockevicius had nine points and seven rebounds in a 108-75 Lithuania win. Once the tournament began, McDermott had 13 points and eight rebounds, while Mockevicius had three rebounds in seven minutes in Team USA’s 107-105 overtime win.”
—Former Aces coach Steve Merfeld is on the Bluejays’ staff as an assistant. Between coaching stops at Bradley and Creighton since he left UE, Merfeld’s teams are 8-2 against the Aces.
—UE won another ESPN U-broadcasted game Sunday against Drake in overtime. It’s a stage with which Creighton has become familiar. The Bluejays are 27-19 in their last 56 ESPN games. Additionally, McDermott averages 25.8 points and 9.2 rebounds when playing on the Worldwide Leader this year — better than his season averages.
UE coach Marty Simmons said the focus in practice since Wednesday’s loss at Southern Illinois was simply to “play hard”: “I just think after the other night, that’s why I’m focusing on that. I thought we played pretty hard out (at Creighton). We didn’t execute real well – gave up a lot of middle penetration and didn’t get back in transition. There’s a lot of areas we have to sure up. But they’ve got a lot of weapons. That’s why you need second, third and fourth efforts. You may take away one thing, but they’re really good looking at the second and third options.”
Senior Troy Taylor on the Aces’ final four MVC games — against Creighton, Illinois State, Wichita State and Indiana State: “We’re basically focused on Creighton – our next assignment. They’re in a slump right now. We play real well at home. I know that doesn’t give us a ticket to win or anything like that. I’m sure they’re hungry for a win too because they can’t keep letting them sleep. This game is important for them as well.”
UE sophomore Jaylon Moore adds to that: “We’re trying to finish up strong. That’s mostly what coach has been preaching about – trying to get wins in these last four games, especially a road game. That would be good.”
Taylor looks back to UE’s earlier meeting with the Bluejays: “I think the first game at Creighton, not everybody had a grasp on how conference went. A lot of guys were new to it, and a lot of guys adjusted – got used to the physicality and toughness. Every game besides the Creighton game we were right in it or had the lead.”
Simmons on Creighton’s recent struggles: “Teams are playing hard against them – giving them good resistance. Maybe they haven’t shot the ball as well as they’re capable of. They’re an outstanding 3-point shooting team. But I can’t point at one individual thing. I think, more than anything, you’ve got to give the teams they’re playing against (credit) because Creighton’s a great basketball team with a lot of weapons.”
And how the Aces can capitalize on having film of a Bluejays loss: “You watch how they guard certain situations, and then we compare that to our personnel,” Simmons said. “We think through what gives us the best chance – which of our personnel can execute the best.”
Moore on facing Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who averages a league-leading 23 points per game: “I like the challenge of playing against top-ranked people. Their name is all over the media and they’re well known. It’s good to get that competition and play those kind of guys.”
Moore on why the Aces play well at home: “I guess I’d probably say comfort. Being at home is a lot different than playing on the road, and I’d say comfort plays into it. We just have to stick together when we go through those droughts.”
Outlook: Creighton hasn’t look so beat-able all season, and the Aces have a tendency to create something late when playing at home. The key for UE: keep it close. Hope for the best. This is still the MVC’s preseason favorite with its likely player of the year, and the Bluejays will bounce back when they find their shooting touch again.