WASHINGTON, D.C. — Anguish radiated from Creighton coach Greg McDermott after Wednesday night’s 71-51 beatdown from middling Georgetown.
Just one week ago, the Bluejays were riding high, climbing to No. 7 Associated Press poll with three wins against ranked teams and just one blemish to previous No. 1 Villanova. Not to mention, they boasted one of the best scoring offenses in all the land at around 90 points per game accented by a shooting percentage a few ticks above 50 percent.
Everything was in line for Creighton to have their long-awaited breakthrough year and vanquish an Elite Eight drought dating back to 1941. In a matter of eight days, everything has depressingly unraveled, and all McDermott could do was admit his Bluejays are clawing to stay afloat.
Last Tuesday, January 17, Creighton’s heartbeat and the nation’s assists leader at 8.5 per game, Maurice Watson Jr., was ruled out for the remainder of the season (torn ACL) and Wednesday marked the Bluejays’ second loss in five days.
“Obviously, we’re fighting,” McDermott said. “A lot of adversity right now. We’ll find out a lot about ourselves in the upcoming week or so.”
After last week’s 102-94 loss to Marquette, Creighton dipped from No. 7 to No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25. And surely, the Bluejays are destined to tank even further after being runoff the court by a skidding Georgetown team that’s lost six of their last eight and hung a 16-game losing streak against Big East opponents not named DePaul or St. John’s prior to Wednesday.
Though it’s a small sample size — 80 minutes to be exact — the future is a haze for Watson-less Creighton, whose NCAA tournament hopes are uncertain.
They’ve shot 42.1 percent as a team the past two games — both losses — and 28.6 percent from behind the arc. Despite scoring 94 points against Marquette, the Bluejays defense succumbed and allowed 102 points on 60 percent shooting.
On Wednesday, Creighton shot a sub 35 percent from the floor while positing a 1-for-18 mark from behind the arc.
Before Watson went down, they converted 53.1 percent of their shots and over 40 percent of 3-point attempts.
“(Maurice Watson) made the game easier, not just for me, but for all of us,” redshirt freshman center Justin Patton said. “It’s been hard because we need to find a different way.”
Patton, projected to be the 18th pick in this year’s NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets via NBAdraft.net, is now asked to shoulder the offensive load. His 71.8 percent field goal percentage ranked third in the nation heading into Wednesday’s game, and since Watson went down, he’s converted 14 of his 22 attempts.
On Wednesday, Patton put up 20 points and seven rebounds, and it appeared in the early stages the offensive crutch would withstand. Soon after Creighton held their final lead at 15-13 with 7:01 until the intermission, the collapse began, and the Bluejays missed 15 of 16 shots during a 10-minute stretch in the first half.
“We just lost focus,” Patton said. “We stopped executing.”
Now that all eyes are off Watson, the attention has now shifted to Patton, with Omaha natives prompting the hometown frosh to revive a season that may be in for the long-haul. It’s an unfair reality, if you ask McDermott.
“Unfortunately, he’s not going to be able to make freshman mistakes for us to progress like we need to progress, and that’s not fair to him because he’s a freshman. He’s 19 years old,” McDermott said. “But our margin for error is different than what it was before.”
Alongside Patton (13.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game), guards Marcus Foster (18.7 points) and Khyri Thomas (11.9 points) and forward Cole Huff (8.8 points) are all asked to expand their roles in the absence of Watson. Fifth year senior Isaiah Zierden and freshman Davion Mintz are also two players shuffled into the rotation with expectations to produce more in order for Creighton to get back on track.
But the reality is, nobody has the firepower and next-level playmaking ability like Mo Watson, leaving Creighton with a colossal void. Sure, Patton has the tools to keep Creighton a contender, but the offense isn’t built to run through him from the post.
“They’re all being asked a role they’re not used to playing,” McDermott said. “That’s difficult to do in late January, but it’s going to have to happen.”
Wednesday night’s matinee at the Verizon Center wasn’t even close, and could be one of, if not, the worst 40 minutes of basketball the Bluejays have played the past two seasons.
One upset loss to Marquette is understandable, a second to Georgetown arouses legitimate worries and a potential third loss to lowly DePaul could desolate any hope of playing postseason basketball if the torrid pace continues — even for a team ranked No. 7 a week ago.
“We have to be able to corral that adversity and try to use it to our advantage, and understand when you’re not at full strength, your execution needs to be at another level,” McDermott said. “We’re going to need some young guys to grow up really fast.”
In a fan’s perspective, the free-fall of Creighton is depressing to witness. A big goose egg still hangs in the national title category, and the prospects of triumphing those droughts are slipping away faster than ever before. About that 76-year Elite Eight dry spell; unless a revival occurs, another season will go by the wayside in Omaha.
“We just need to find ourselves again,” Patton said. “Have fun and play Creighton basketball, which we know how to do. We just have to get back to it.”