ST. LOUIS — Top-seeded Creighton needs just a little defense to helps its offense carry it in postseason play. Center Gregory Echenique, when properly engaged, can provide that defense almost all by himself.
On Friday, he blocked six shots and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 65-53 win over ninth-seeded Drake. He blocked five shots in the second half to help the Bluejays pull away. Drake shot 30.6 percent in the half, in part because Echenique kept the Bulldogs out of the lane.
“He was a defensive force,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said.
Echenique didn’t score in the first half. He scored five points early in the second half and those baskets helped his energy.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get that switch flipped, and when it gets flipped he’s hard to deal with,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “(We) found him a couple times early in the second half. I think that really lit his fire.”
For the rest of the game, Echenique used his 6-foot-9 frame to guard the rim. Drake couldn’t get any easy baskets. It reminded his coach of the Wichita State game, when Echenique helped on screens and defended all over the court.
“We are a totally different team on the defensive end of the floor,” McDermott said.
Echenique’s six blocks are second on the tournament’s single-game list, behind former Bluejay Benoit Benjamin’s 10.
“The second half, Doug (McDermott) talked to me as well and he got me going,” Echenique said. “He tried to find me and I thought that was key. That helped my energy.”
Top Jay — Doug McDermott is packing four seasons of scoring into three. On Saturday, he scored 23 points in the win over Drake and became Creighton’s career scoring leader.
McDermott, a 6-foot-8 junior, has 2,129 points to pass Rodney Buford (1995-99) with 2,116. He is also 10th on the MVC’s career scoring list.
“It’s been a blast so far,” he said. “I can’t dwell on it too much because we’ve got a big game (Saturday).”
McDermott performed with his typical efficiency, making 8 of 14 shots and 3 of 4 three-pointers.
“It’s more special because it’s happening on a team that’s winning a lot of basketball games,” Greg McDermott said.
No momentum — Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson covered his team’s issues in February. In March, the real Salukis came out.
Seventh-seeded Missouri State handled 10th-seeded SIU 61-53 on Thursday and Hinson sounded happy to put his first season behind him and start the future. That future looks critical to the MVC should Creighton depart for the Big East. SIU, with Creighton close behind, led the MVC’s resurgence over the past 15 years. Saluki fans can help fill the Scottrade Center given a reason to believe.
“We will have a completely new roster next year,” Hinson said. “So we kind of ended one Saluki era here with somewhat of a new star, but I think every coach’s second year is the most difficult. It will give us a glimpse of what the future holds, and I’m excited about it.”
SIU came to St. Louis after winning three in a row to close the regular season and six of their final nine. It was a mirage, according to Hinson. When MSU took a lead in the second half, Hinson said he could tell his team packed it in.
“I think we’re really fragile,” he said. “I recognized that team from earlier in the year. We had guys arguing and point fingers at each other, and it was just gut-wrenching. It was sad.”
Rumors Central — The seven Big East Catholic schools officially split with the football schools on Friday.
Those seven, according to numerous reports, are expected to add three schools. More are possible in the future. According to ESPN.com, Xavier and Butler are considered the first additions with Creighton a likely choice.
Stars struck — Evansville guard Colt Ryan exited the Scottrade Center with another disappointing performance in a 51-50 loss to fifth-seeded Indiana State.
Ryan, an All-MVC pick, went scoreless in the second half and finished with eight points on 4-of-18 shooting. A player known for drawing fouls and making free throws, Ryan didn’t get to the line.
“That doesn’t ever happen,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said.
It happened Friday. The Sycamores, with freshman Devonte Brown doing most of the work, made Ryan take a lot of guarded shots. They also sharpened up their help defense and took away open teammates. In a March 2 meeting, Ryan scored 31 points and handed out eight assists in an 84-68 win in Evansville.
“When we helped on Colt, he didn’t necessarily have the dump downs that he had last Saturday against us,” Sycamores guard Jake Odum said. “We kind of rotated and took that away. I think that might have confused him.”
Ryan went 1-4 in the tournament with a high-scoring mark of 19 points.
“They did a good job sending extra defenders at me,” he said. “I missed some shots I normally make and some shots I should make.”
End game — Indiana State and Evansville packed a lot of drama into the final 22 seconds.
Evansville senior Troy Taylor missed two free throws with 22 seconds remaining, keeping the score 50-all. With 2.5 seconds to play, Egidijus Mockevicius fouled Indiana State’s Justin Gant. Gant missed the first free throw and made the second for a one-point lead.
Evansville’s pass to from baseline to the foul line bounced off a defender before Ned Cox picked it up and took at least two steps to the basket. Brown swooped across the lane to block the layup at the buzzer. Despite protests from the Evansville coaches and players, official David Hall walked off the court signaling Brown got his hand on top of the ball for a clean block.
“Somebody had to make a play,” Brown said. “Once my teammate got beat, I just had to get out there and help him. I just sprinted and got there and just got the block.”
Worth noting — Creighton’s Will Artino scored a career-high 14 points against Drake.… Drake’s Ben Simons ends his career with 1,363 points, No. 8 on the school’s career list.… Indiana State’s Manny Arop started after missing the previous two games with a suspension for violation of team rules.