Creighton forward Doug McDermott is coming off one of the best performances of his life.
The reigning Missouri Valley Conference player of the year hasn't been at his best against the team he originally signed up to play for.
McDermott and the 12th-ranked Bluejays go for an 11th consecutive victory Tuesday night when they host Northern Iowa, which tries to build off its most lopsided MVC win since joining the conference 21 years ago.
Third in the nation with 23.6 points per game, McDermott hit 15 of 19 shots en route to his 39 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Friday's 74-52 victory at Missouri State. The junior scored the Bluejays' first 18 second-half points and finished with the second-highest total of his career behind the 44 he posted last Jan. 7 in a victory over Bradley.
"I was just in a zone," said McDermott, 18 points shy of moving past Kyle Korver (1,801) for fifth place in Creighton history. "My teammates saw that and they kind of kept giving me the ball."
The Bluejays (16-1, 5-0), among the nation's leaders with 18.2 assists per game, could benefit from another big game from McDermott as they try to extend their best conference start since opening 7-0 in 2002-03. McDermott, though, is averaging just 15.4 points in five matchups versus Northern Iowa, the team to which he committed before his father, Greg, became Creighton's coach in 2010 following four seasons at Iowa State.
The Panthers were one of three MVC teams (Missouri State, Wichita State) to limit McDermott to fewer than 20 points each time they faced him last season when he finished third in the country at 22.9 per game. He had some trouble against the bigger Jake Koch, currently a senior forward who leads Northern Iowa in blocks and steals with 21 apiece. McDermott had 14 points in a 63-60 home win over Northern Iowa last Jan. 10 before scoring 18 and grabbing 12 boards in a 65-62 road loss Feb. 4.
Panthers guard Anthony James hit a 3-pointer as time expired in that contest to end Creighton's season-best 11-game winning streak. James had a team-high 16 points and currently averages a team-leading 11.6.
Northern Iowa (9-8, 2-3) arrives in Omaha on the heels of a much-needed victory, 84-53 over Bradley on Saturday. Led by Marc Sonnen's career high-tying seven 3-pointers and 21 points, Northern Iowa avoided a third straight home loss with a school record-tying 15 3s.
"We just needed a little bit of bounce in our step," said coach Ben Jacobson, who played for Greg McDermott at North Dakota and was an assistant under him there and at Northern Iowa.
Another big game from sophomore Deon Mitchell, who had 15 points and a career-high seven assists Saturday, could provide more open looks for Sonnen. The senior guard, averaging just 5.8 field-goal attempts in league play, is second in the conference with 43 3s, one less than Bluejays forward Ethan Wragge.
"We've got to find ways to get him more shots," Jacobson said of Sonnen, who hit all five 3s and scored a team-high 15 points in last season's loss at Creighton.
The Bluejays are eighth in the MWC with 54.2 shots per game, but they rank second in the nation in field-goal percentage (52.2) and first from 3-point range at 45.2.
McDermott has made half of his 18 3-point attempts and averaged 24.8 points in MVC play.
Creighton is 29-16 in this series.
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