NEW YORK — Creighton left Madison Square Garden on Sunday night with a little fire in its belly.
The Bluejays knew they hadn’t played their best game in dropping a 70-65 decision to St. John’s. They missed wide-open shots from behind the arc and didn’t make free throws. They failed to get back on defense and gave St. John’s too many easy shots.
“This is really going to motivate us,’’ Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “This is the first time for a lot of us in this building, so you know the emotion was high at the start of the game.
“I’m sure we’re going to see these guys later in the year. We have to be prepared and not let this loss hurt too much. We have to let it motivate us the rest of the way.’’
The Bluejays’ next trip to the Garden will come in mid-March, when they play in the Big East tournament. With the way the Bluejays have played all year, and with the way St. John’s is now playing, it’s not out of the question that a third meeting of the season could come deep into the tournament.
“St. John’s is playing as well as anyone in our league right now,’’ Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
He did see value in getting an opportunity to play in the Garden as opposed to had the game been played at St. John’s on-campus arena. The Red Storm will play eight of its 18 home games this season at the historical arena.
“I think this is a huge bonus for us,’’ Greg McDermott said. “Being able to get in here this morning for a shoot-around, the awe moment of walking in here for the first time was passed for a lot of our guys. That’s important. We’ll have a comfort level next time.’’
Creighton won the first meeting between the teams Jan. 28 in Omaha by holding off a fierce Red Storm rally in pulling out a 63-60 victory. Doug McDermott made the winning shot in that game, burying a 3-point shot with 2.8 seconds to play.
McDermott scored 25 points in Sunday’s rematch but was as efficient on the offensive end of the court as he was when he scored 39 points in the first meeting.
St. John’s defense, with JaKarr Sampson drawing the brunt of the duty against McDermott, made the Creighton star work for each one of his points.
The Bluejays didn’t make the Red Storm work as hard, especially in the first half when St. John’s scored 40 points. Many of the defensive mistakes Creighton made were, in Grant Gibbs’ opinion, due to a lack of attention to detail.
“Coach told us that we’re going to watch the tape and really be disappointed with ourselves,’’ the senior guard said. “We didn’t follow out game plan. It’s kind of like the coaches, with their game plans, give you the answers to the test and we have to fill in the blanks and do the work.
“We didn’t get back on defense and in transition. They got it going. We didn’t follow the game plan, and that’s kind of the formula on how to drop one on the road. ‘’
One concern the McDermott and his staff has coming out of Creighton’s two games last week is getting its 3-point game back in gear. The Bluejays were the national leaders last week in three 3-point shooting categories: percentage, field goals per game and total field goals made.
But Creighton shot just better than 25 percent from 3-point range in its win over DePaul and its loss to St. John’s. The Bluejays made 7 of 25 shots against the Blue Demons and 5 of 22 against the Red Storm. The five 3-point field goal was Creighton’s second-lowest total of the season.
McDermott was asked after Sunday’s game whether he thought some of his team’s 3-point problems were a result of defensive pressure by the two opponents or just a shooting slump by some of his players.
“When I think back on some of our shots,’’ McDermott said, “I’d say it’s a slump.’’
Against St. John’s, guards Austin Chatman and Jahenns Manigat and forward Ethan Wragge were a combined 3 of 14 from beyond the arc Chatman came into the game making 52.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, while Wragge was shooting 49.3 percent and Manigat 45.7 percent.
“Those are guys that are not just good shooters this year but they’ve been 40-percent-plus over their careers,’’ McDermott said. “There is going to be some ebbs and flows anytime you shoot a lot of 3-point shot, but these guys have done it over the test of time. I’m confident they will in the future.’’
Creighton now finds itself second nationally in 3-point field goals per game (10.5) and 3-point field goals made (242), and third in 3-point percentage (.418). The Bluejays lead the nation in assists-to-turnovers ratio (1.79 to 1), is also second in assists per game (18.3) , third in 3-point percentage (.418) and total assists (417) and eighth in scoring margin (plus-14.7).
Individually, Doug McDermott is second in scoring (253) and field goals (200) and fifth in total points (582). Wragge stands second in 3-point percentage (.494) and ranks sixth in 3-point basket per game (3.57) and 3-pointers made (82), while Manigat is eighth in assists to turnovers ratio (3.70 to 1)
The loss to St. John’s did cost Creighton some poll position as the Bluejays dropped from 12th to 18th in the Associated Press rankings and from 12th to 17th in the USA Today coaches’ poll. Creighton also dropped five spots, to 13th, in the NCAA’s official RPI.