Greg McDermott stopped Creighton’s practice Thursday after a defensive mistake and asked his players a most pertinent question.
“How many career highs are we going to give up this year?’’ McDermott said.
Heading into Saturday’s game against St. Joseph’s, the 11th-ranked Bluejays find themselves working on a dubious streak. In its last six games, Creighton has allowed the leading scorer for the opposing team to post a career-high scoring total.
Alabama-Birmingham’s Terence Jones started the streak by scoring a career-high 16 points in a Nov. 14 loss to the Bluejays. Boise State’s Derrick Mark continued it when he torched Creighton for a career-best 35 points in a win Wednesday night.
In between, Presbyterian’s Jordan Downing (25 points), Longwood’s Jeylani Dublin (19), Wisconsin’s Jared Berggren (27) and Arizona State’s Jahii Carson (30) posted career highs against the Bluejays.
“More than anything, that shows we have to pay more attention to the scouting report,’’ Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “We have to start forcing people into their weaknesses. We let Marks go left all game, and that’s his game.
“If he’s going to be scoring a career high against us, he better be doing something that isn’t his complete strength. That’s just us being dialed in in knowing what we want to accomplish defensively.’’
Marks, a sophomore guard from Chicago, blistered the Bluejays for 28 points in the second half of Wednesday’s 83-70 upset. He scored 18 straight points at one point in the second half, making 8 of 10 shots from the field and two free throws.
Marks’ ability to break down Creighton’s defense off the dribble is troubling with St. Joseph’s headed to town. That’s exactly how the Hawks’ Carl Jones exploited the Bluejays last season in scoring a career-high 29 points in a 80-71 St. Joseph’s win.
Asked about the run of career highs this season, McDermott replied, “I’ve had my fill of those. Some of it, though, is by design. We played Berggren one-on-one inside to take away the 3-point shot. We felt that was the best way to play them.
“The fact that he got that many shots (14) was by design. Last night certainly wasn’t.’’
Creighton worked long and hard during the offseason trying to shore up some of its defensive deficiencies. The Bluejays won 29 games last season in spite of finishing in the bottom third nationally in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense and 3-point field-goal percentage defense.
McDermott’s players came into this season talking about how they thought they had made some progress in improving in that aspect of the game. The coach cautioned that with almost the same personnel from a season ago that improvements would be more subtle than dramatic.
He knew odds were that no matter how much focus the players put on getting better defensively that it wasn’t going to turn them into lockdown defenders in the course of an offseason. Still, he was pleased by some of the strides his team had shown through the first six games.
Creighton’s first six opponents were shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from 3-point range while averaging 62.2 points per game. A season ago, the Bluejays allowed their opponents to average 69.7 points and shoot 44.1 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Then came Wednesday’s breakdown against the Broncos. Boise State came into the game having made 44.3 percent of its field-goal attempts and 34.3 percent of its 3-point tries. The Broncos pulled off the biggest upset in school history by shooting 60.4 percent from the field and 52.6 percent on 3-pointers.
That’s hardly a confidence-builder with an athletic St. Joseph’s backcourt and a front line capable of dominant performances coming to town.
“We have to learn from last night,’’ Gibbs said. “We have a lot of stuff we can clean up. Coach’s big point today was that we can’t approach this game like, ‘Yeah, we lost that one but now we’re going to turn it over.
“We really have to learn from what we did wrong and really do things differently, especially with our execution and our mindset.’’