After two months outside the AP Top 25 poll, Creighton has proven itself to the voters once again thanks to its latest winning streak.
Now No. 23 in the country, the Bluejays will be out for their seventh win in a row when they pay a visit to Seton Hall on Wednesday in Newark, N.J.
Creighton (15-8, 9-3 Big East) was ranked as high as No. 7 in the poll in late November. A six-game losing streak that featured some high-quality opponents like Arizona, Texas and Marquette knocked the Bluejays off that perch.
But three of those games were played without star center Ryan Kalkbrenner, who missed time with an illness, and the Bluejays have gone 9-2 since the end of that skid. On their current six-game run, five different players have led them in scoring at least once, most recently Trey Alexander with 27 points in Creighton’s 66-61 home win on Saturday over Villanova.
Alexander went 8 of 15 from the field, including 5 of 9 from 3-point land.
“I’m thankful we’ve got all of our guys. (Saturday) was Trey’s night and we recognized that,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Ran a couple plays for him, and he did what good players are supposed to do — he knocked down the shot.”
Creighton’s largest lead was 10 points, but it fell behind 61-60 in the final 34 seconds before defense and free throws allowed the Bluejays to sneak away. They won despite making just 37.7 percent of their shots — their lowest rate since a Jan. 7 loss to UConn.
Kalkbrenner added 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He leads the Bluejays with 15.2 points per game and has scored at least 15 in six of the past seven outings.
Fellow starters Alexander (13.5 ppg), Baylor Scheierman (13.0), Arthur Kaluma (12.5) and Ryan Nembhard (11.5) also have scoring averages in double figures.
McDermott believes this second matchup against Seton Hall (15-9, 8-5) will be much different than Creighton’s first, when the Bluejays cruised to an 83-61 win on Jan. 3 in Omaha, Neb. Since that lackluster showing, coach Shaheen Holloway’s Pirates have won seven of eight games.
“They’re playing with a lot more confidence and swagger, I think, than they were when we played them the first time,” McDermott said. “Shaheen’s done a great job moving them along as well. That’ll be a tough environment on Wednesday, but if we expect to continue to compete for this league championship, we’ve got to go on the road and win.”
The Pirates last played Sunday, when they got off to a nightmarish start — missing their first 11 shots and falling behind 15-2 — before rallying to beat DePaul 69-64 at home.
“We got to make sure we understand that we can’t get lazy like that at the beginning of games,” Holloway said.
Tyrese Samuel led Seton Hall with 14 points and seven rebounds as five players scored in double figures. Seton Hall also used 10 steals, five by Al-Amir Dawes, to stymie DePaul.
Holloway will be looking for more effort in practice ahead of the Creighton rematch.
“Creighton’s a good team, very well-coached,” Holloway said. “They play a unique style that you kind of got to get used to.”
Dre Davis, who scores 9.1 points per game off the bench, is considered “game to game” after spraining his ankle in the dying minutes of a Jan. 28 win at Butler.
Dawes (12.0 ppg, 40.3 percent 3-point shooting) has emerged as the Pirates’ leading scorer. In his past three games, Dawes has averaged 14.7 points and made 9 of 22 3-point attempts.
–Field Level Media