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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Grant Gibbs is glue for Creighton

By Paul Suellentrop
The Wichita Eagle

Antoine Young calls Grant Gibbs the "Floor Dad" for Creighton's basketball team.

Gibbs, voted a captain, is the Bluejay who deals with referees. He is the player who positions teammates on defense and calms or instructs in the huddle. Star forward Doug McDermott, the nation's second-leading scorer, carries the offense. Gibbs, a junior guard, makes that load lighter with his passing and court savvy.

"He has a great feel for the game," Young said. "He's our glue guy."

For proof, look no further than Creighton's No. 21 national ranking and its offensive statistics. The Bluejays (10-2, 0-1 Missouri Valley Conference) endured ups and downs last season and struggled to win close games. With Gibbs in the lineup, Creighton is a smarter team no longer bogged down by a negative turnover margin.

"He's got a point-guard mentality," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "He's a great passer. He puts it in very small places in the exact time the receiver needs the ball. McDermott is a great player, but some of McDermott's baskets are directly attributed to how well Gibbs passes the ball."

The Bluejays play Wichita State (10-2, 1-0) tonight in a matchup of preseason favorites at Koch Arena. The Shockers can put Creighton, picked first, in an 0-2 hole and grab an early edge in the MVC race.

WSU is in this enviable position because Missouri State stunned the Bluejays 77-65 on Wednesday in Omaha. Creighton's offense stumbled to its lowest point total of the season, and Gibbs recorded more turnovers than assists for only the second time. While he doesn't play point guard, he does handle the ball. Gibbs, 6-foot-4, leads Creighton with 74 assists. He is a transfer from Gonzaga who settled into the role of helping Young run the Bluejays.

"He makes great decisions on the floor," Young said. "It takes the pressure off me, not having to make all the decisions. If teams pressure us, he can bring it up."

The Bears also did an admirable job keeping McDermott under control. He scored 19 points, six under his average, and needed 18 shots. For the season, he averages 24.8 points and makes 61.5 percent of his shots, 56.3 percent from three- point range. Many teams throw two defenders at him when he posts up. Tulsa declined, and McDermott burned the Golden Hurricane for a season-high 35 points on 16-of-23 shooting.

The Shockers no longer possess experienced defenders such as Aaron Ellis and Gabe Blair to deal with inside-outside threats such as McDermott. Junior Carl Hall and senior Ben Smith normally guard the opposing power forwards. For Hall, filling that role is a change because he is used to guarding players who rarely venture outside the lane. At WSU, he has had to expand his defensive efforts out the three-point arc.

"He's getting better," Marshall said. "He's taking it very seriously."

Hall got a bit of a preview in Wednesday's 90-51 win at Bradley. He guarded Taylor Brown, a forward who prefers medium-range jump shots and driving to the basket over banging in the lane.

"Every team, their best player is (a power forward), so I have my hands full," Hall said.

So do all the Shockers. The Bluejays like to run and they fill the court with shooters. Creighton averages 84.3 points and makes 44.6 percent of its three-pointers.

"They score the ball very well," WSU guard Demetric Williams said. "We say they've got to guard us, too, and we're going to be ready to play good defense."

Check Paul Suellentrop's Shocker blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves. Reach him at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com.

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