Season Opener: Creighton knocks off North Texas, 71-51

Eric Francis

The No. 15 Creighton Bluejays kicked off the 2012-13 season with a dominant win over a talented North Texas squad led by preseason All-American and projected NBA lottery pick Tony Mitchell.

Led by their own All-American Doug McDermott, Creighton took control late in the first half and rolled to a 20-point victory over the Mean Green.

The headline coming into the game was the match-up of two of the best forwards in the country in McDermott and Mitchell, and both players showed a little bit of what makes them special.

McDermott was tremendous, scoring 21 points on 6-11 shooting and hauling in a game-high 11 rebounds. Mitchell didn't quite match McDermott, finishing with 18 points on 8-15 shooting, seven rebounds and two blocks, but he showed off his eye-popping athleticism with a handful of high-flying dunks.

It was a bit of a bizarre game, with little to no flow and sloppy play all-around. The Jays -- one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country -- couldn't get it going from deep, and hit just one of eight attempts in the first half. Creighton finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field, but struggled to a 5-for-18 night from three-point range. Even without their outside shots going down, though, the Jays were still able to jump out to a 39-25 lead at halftime after ending the half on a 16-6 run.

Creighton then extended their lead to 23 with a 12-5 run to start the second half, and Mitchell's fourth foul forced him to the bench with 13:00 left and his team down 55-34. This happened early in a 4:14 stretch of scoreless basketball, and when Mitchell finally returned with 8:31 remaining the game was basically over. The two teams traded baskets and stops fro the rest of the game, and the Bluejay crowd of 17,139 even got to see a brief appearance by the walk-ons at the end of the game.

We knew Creighton would be able to score some points, but the story of the offseason was Creighton's defense -- or lack thereof -- last year. At least for one night, the Jays silenced the critics, holding North Texas to only 51 points on 31.9 percent shooting and 12.5 percent from deep.

One of the keys to this effort was center Gregory Echenique's defense on Mitchell. Echenique is a big body at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, and he battled in the post with Mitchell all night long and kept him from going off. The Jays' game-plan against Mitchell was well-executed by the whole team.

"I thought it was great," McDermott said. "We had a really good scouting report going in, we got some great looks in practice, so we knew their tendencies. I think that’s what we mainly focused on; just who’s good at what. I thought we did a good job of blocking them out, especially in the first half. That was the key to getting off to that lead."

"We made (Mitchell) work for all those points. We were bringing double-teams, not to start because Gregory started on him, but we switched it up a little and we had a really good game-plan on him. He got some offensive rebounds, but that’s Tony Mitchell for you. I think we did a good job of containing him."

The Jays decided to challenge themselves right out of the gate with a talented team like North Texas, and doing so can only help them down the road. However, it was the first game of the season and looked like it, and Creighton's head coach Greg McDermott said he was happy to get it out of the way.

"If [the players] are half as relieved as I am to get this one over with, they are pretty darn relieved," McDermott said. "I don't know if I've been as nervous for an opening game as I have been this one in the 24 years I've been doing this ... It's good to get this one in the W column and move on."

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