OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A strong finish to the regular season couldn't push Creighton into the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year. The Bluejays are using the disappointment they felt on Selection Sunday for motivation.
"We remind our guys every single day that we didn't make the NCAA Tournament last year," Ty-Shon Alexander said. "Now we know what we have to do. We have to win the Big East this year, get close to winning the Big East or win games no matter what. That's going to be us, and that's what this culture is all about."
Alexander is among four returning starters from the team that finished 20-15 overall, tied for third in the Big East at 9-9 and reached the NIT quarterfinals.
The junior guard went from being a 5.5-point scorer as a freshman to averaging 15.7 per game last season, the biggest jump of any Big East player. He also made the fourth-most 3-pointers in program history (97), quite an accomplishment at the school that produced sharpshooters like 2014 national player of the year Doug McDermott and NBA 3-point specialist Kyle Korver.
Alexander's breakout led to his being named to the All-Big East preseason team and makes him the face of the program.
"I'm 100% comfortable with it," he said. "There'll be more attention on me. Having more attention is going to better myself and my guys. I don't need to score to win games. I can help my players out, pass the ball, help them create for themselves or create for others."
Also returning are guards Marcus Zegarowski, Davion Mintz and Mitch Ballock.
Zegarowski was one of the top freshmen in the Big East despite playing through a broken hand. Mintz has played a team-high 97 games and is a defensive stopper. Ballock, who took 79% of his shots from 3-point range last year, has worked to develop into a penetrator when he gets chased off the 3-point line.
MURPHY ON LEAVE
Assistant coach Preston Murphy is nearing his eighth month on paid administrative leave. As part of the FBI investigation into college basketball, Murphy allegedly was paid $6,000 in 2017 to steer prospective pros to aspiring sports agent Christopher Dawkins. An undercover FBI agent was in the Las Vegas hotel room where the alleged bribe was paid. Athletic director Bruce Rasmussen declined to comment when asked if Creighton had received a notice of allegations from the NCAA or been contacted by the FBI.
TURNING UP THE 'D'
The Bluejays hope to carry over the improved defense they played late last season. Creighton allowed 67.3 points per game while winning seven of its last nine games. That was down from 75.2 the first 26 games.
"We were giving up too many points," Ballock said. "We were relying on our offense to win games, and sometimes it would win us games, sometimes it wouldn't. We tightened things up, got the defense going and, when the shots weren't falling, we were still in games we wouldn't have been in before in January and December."
HOPING FOR HEALTH
Zegarowski and forward Damien Jefferson are coming back from surgeries. Zegarowski had hip surgery and missed the team's summer trip to Australia. Jefferson had ankle surgery in January and is yet to regain the explosiveness he showed before he got hurt. Center Jacob Epperson was limited to nine games because of a back injury, and he had the second of two knee surgeries in April. His return has been delayed after he injured his right leg in practice Thursday.
Graduate transfer Kelvin Jones fills the void left by the departure of big man Martin Krampelj. The 6-11, 230-pound Jones averaged 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds and had 44 blocks for Idaho State. Shereef Mitchell and Jalen Windham could be freshman contributors. McDermott said Mitchell, from Omaha, can be a "game changer" as a full-court defender. The coach said Windham, from Indianapolis, was the team's top shooter in early practices.
The Bluejays open at home against Kennesaw State on Nov. 5. The nonconference schedule features visits to Michigan and Arizona State and games in Las Vegas against San Diego State and either Iowa or 2019 national runner-up Texas Tech. The Big East opener is Jan. 1 at home against Marquette.
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