GAME NOTES: The 21st-ranked Creighton Bluejays continue Missouri Valley Conference play when they welcome the Bradley Braves to the CenturyLink Center on Saturday.
Greg McDermott's Bluejays were cruising along piling out the victories until a couple of weeks ago, when Creighton dropped back-to-back MVC contests to Wichita State and Drake. The Bluejays have righted the ship somewhat with consecutive wins over Southern Illinois (81-55) and Missouri State (91-77) since, moving to 8-2 in conference play, tied with the Shockers atop the league standings.
Geno Ford's Braves are sitting four games over .500 on the season at 13-9. However, Bradley has had a tougher time ascending the MVC standings, as the team is just 5-5 in league play. The majority of the team's success has come at Carver Arena (10 wins), but the road has caused problems, with just three wins in eight true road games this year. The Braves were able to bring an end to a two-game skid with Tuesday's 83-77 win over Illinois State at home.
Although the series seems highly competitive with Creighton owning a 44-41 series advantage, the Bluejays have won 21 of the last 26 meetings. Creighton has also won 14 straight against the Braves in Omaha dating back to 1998.
Walt Lemon Jr. erupted for a career-high 27 points, leading the Braves to a come-from-behind win over Illinois State last time out. Bradley trailed by 16 points in the first half, but rallied to end an seven-game losing streak to the Redbirds. Tyshon Pickett and Dyricus Simms-Edwards poured in 15 points each in support.
The trio of Lemon, Simms-Edwards and Pickett have started every game this season and have flourished as the team's primary scoring options. Lemon paces the Braves in the scoring column at 14.8 ppg, doing so on an efficient .460 shooting percentage. Simms-Edwards is next in the line with 11.5 ppg, followed closely by Pickett and his 11.0 ppg. Overall, Bradley enters this game averaging 67.0 ppg. The team has struggled on the boards with a -2.8 rebounding margin, but is forcing 16.3 turnovers per game to help neutralize that.
The Braves will need to be on top of their game defensively, against the explosive Bluejays, who are averaging a hefty 79.1 ppg, while leading the nation in both field-goal percentage (.521) and 3-point accuracy (.453). All- American Doug McDermott is a big reason for those numbers as he is on pace to earn his second straight MVC Player of the Year award. McDermott ranks second in the nation in scoring at 23.9 ppg, shooting .563 from the floor overall and a sizzling .516 from behind the arc (49-of-95). Gregory Echenique is a strong finisher in the middle, averaging 10.0 ppg, while shooting an MVC-best .662 from the floor. Other contributors for Creighton include Ethan Wragge (9.2 ppg), Grant Gibbs (8.2 ppg) and Austin Chatman (8.0 ppg).
Creighton has really been sharp over the last two games, including shooting .556 from the field against Missouri State this year. The Bluejays overwhelmed the Bears with a 15-of-28 effort from long range, McDermott hit fife 3- pointers en route to a game-high 29 points, completing a double-double with 10 rebounds. Chatman also completed the feat with 14 points and 10 assists. Wragge added 15 points in the offensive onslaught.
Creighton may have been caught napping by the Shockers and Bulldogs, but the sleeping giant seems to be awake and angry now. The Braves will have trouble matching the Bluejays' intensity in this one.