Creighton hopes the confidence it gained from winning three straight hard-fought games to conclude the regular season will pave the way for a deep run during the Missouri Valley Conference tournament this weekend in St. Louis.
The second-seed and No. 25 Bluejays begin their run for an 11th tournament title with a quarterfinal matchup against Drake on Friday night.
Creighton (25-5) was 21-2 and riding an 11-game conference winning streak when it dropped its next three games. The Bluejays bounced back with four straight wins to finish 14-4 in the league, second behind No. 15 Wichita State. Thanks to that run, they believe they can make some noise this weekend after winning their last three despite trailing with three minutes left in each game.
“We believe in each other,” said forward Doug McDermott, who averaged 23.1 points and 8.1 rebounds to become the first sophomore to earn MVC player of the year honors. “(Winning close games down the stretch) will help our confidence (in the conference tournament). We’ve got to be better, but we’re a really confident bunch and we hope to have a good time in St. Louis.”
The 6-foot-7 son of coach Greg McDermott is third in the country in scoring and ranks among the Division I leaders shooting 60.7 percent. He averaged 26.3 points on 28-of-50 shooting in the last three contests.
Senior guard Antione Young scored 21 in each of the last two games, and hit the go-ahead basket with 1:24 remaining as the Bluejays overcame 38.6 percent shooting to win 61-60 at Indiana State on Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot of things to clean up heading into the tourney, and we’ve still got some things to focus on, but I think it shows we can play in tough games, show some fight,” said Young, averaging only 8.0 points on 12-of-47 shooting in five league tournament games.
McDermott hopes to play better in this event after he totaled 25 points in two tournament games in 2011. He was held to nine in last season’s 60-50 semifinal loss to Missouri State.
Though the Bluejays have not reached the tournament finals since winning the title in 2007, their 10 championships are the most in conference history.
Creighton has won five of seven against Drake (17-14), including the two regular-season meetings by a combined 25 points. McDermott totaled 54 points on 19-of-26 shooting this season against the Bulldogs, who posted a 75-67 semifinal win over the Bluejays en route to their last MVC tournament title in 2008.
Drake, which finished 9-9 in league play, advanced to this year’s quarterfinals with a 65-49 win over Bradley on Thursday. Rayvonte Rice scored 18 points and Ben Simons added 16 as the seventh-seeded Bulldogs outscored the Braves 40-22 in the paint.
Rice averaged a team-leading 16.6 points during the regular and had 23 with 11 rebounds during a 77-69 home loss to Creighton on Jan. 25. That came after he was held to six points on 2-of-10 shooting in a 76-59 road defeat to the Bluejays on Jan. 3.
“It’s difficult, because he’s so powerful going to the basket,” Greg McDermott said of Rice, who has averaged 18.3 points in the last four games overall.
Simons has averaged 17.7 on 20-of-36 shooting in the last three versus Creighton.