Adversity Getting The Better Of Creighton – For Now

    Creighton has lost back-to-back games since Maurice Watson Jr. went down with an injury, and the Bluejays need to recover quickly to avoid having their season go into a tailspin.

    January 26, 2017

    Creighton has lost back-to-back games since Maurice Watson Jr. went down with an injury, and the Bluejays need to recover quickly to avoid their season diving into a tailspin.

    Greg McDermott spoke in a tone reserved mostly for churches and libraries. He flipped his stat sheet several times without actually reading it, a tic illustrating his discomfort.

    Much had changed in the nine days since his Creighton Bluejays took the floor as a Final Four contender with the nation’s assist leader playing at the top of his game. They just lost at Georgetown by 20 points Wednesday night, a defeat that followed a 102-94 home loss to Marquette on Saturday.

    McDermott nodded politely, stared at the table, and said something so obvious yet so unbelievable considering the highs that existed just over a week ago.

    “Obviously, we’re fighting a lot of adversity right now,” McDermott said softly.

    Fifth-year senior point guard Maurice Watson Jr., the catalyst for the Bluejays’ offense and first line of defense who averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 assists, suffered a torn ACL against Xavier on Jan. 16. The Bluejays rallied around Marcus Foster and redshirt freshman 7-footer Justin Patton to win that tough road game and improve to 18-1 with victories over Wisconsin and Butler on their resume.

    But they haven’t been the same since. And it wasn’t supposed to be this way. All the work to build the program into a national contender, dating back to former coach Dana Altman and the Missouri Valley Conference to McDermott’s son, Doug, winning national player of the year and helping Creighton transition to the Big East, was supposed to be recognized with a deep NCAA Tournament run.

    Creighton Bluejays head coach Greg McDermott talks with center Justin Patton. Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

    Without Watson, the Bluejays are a shell of what they’d become through the first 19 games. They’re inconsistent defensively and sputtering on offense.

    “When we stepped on campus June 6, we didn’t know what type of team we were, and then we figured it out,” Patton said. “When we lost Maurice, it’s like we’re back in that same position again. It’s just (about) finding ourselves again.”

    McDermott contends it’s not anyone’s fault that they’ve gone astray. He admitted it’s unfair to ask so much of Patton given his inexperience. Patton, though, stepped up with 20 points against the Hoyas. Isaiah Zierden has been thrust into a starting role after coming off the bench the first 19 games, and minutes are increasing across the board.

    There’s no quick fix, and Creighton’s season is becoming a depressing tale of bad luck following such a promising start filled with potential for a Final Four run.

    “I don’t think you can take down and start over, but we certainly have to tweak,” McDermott said. “Some guys are being asked to play a role they haven’t played at any point in their career. That’s difficult to do in late January, but that’s what’s going to happen.”

    The Bluejays will have to get used to the changes quickly to avoid having their season spiral out of control without Watson. A rematch with Xavier and road games against Butler and defending national champion Villanova – which dealt Creighton its only defeat when Watson was healthy – still loom on the schedule.

    Creighton has 10 games plus the Big East tournament to become a cohesive unit again in order to succeed in the Big Dance. It hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since legendary coach Eddie Sutton’s last season in Omaha in 1973-74, and that drought will continue if McDermott can’t get his team clicking again.

    “We’ll find out a lot about ourselves in the coming week or so,” McDermott said. “We’ve lost a good player. … We’ve got to be able to corral the adversity and try to use it to our advantage. What I know for sure is this group will stick together.”

    MORE: Xavier vs. Cincinnati Prediction, Game Preview


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