Creighton’s high-scoring offense didn’t skip a beat even without its biggest star.
Denzel Mahoney scored a season-high 24 points to lead six players in double figures with Marcus Zegarowski out of the lineup, and seventh-ranked Creighton pulled away early in a 97-79 victory over St. John’s on Saturday.
“The first 22 possessions we scored 40 points maybe with some of the most unselfish, best offensive basketball I’ve seen in a long time,” coach Greg McDermott said.
The Bluejays (10-2, 6-1) won their sixth consecutive Big East game in the same season for the first time since joining the conference in 2013 and swept the two-game season series with St. John’s. The Red Storm (6-6, 1-5) dropped to 0-4 on the road.
Zegarowski, the Big East preseason player of the year and the Bluejays’ season scoring leader, was held out because of a hamstring injury suffered in the first half of Wednesday’s game against Seton Hall. Creighton is off until next Saturday.
“We just didn’t want to push it, especially with the week off coming after this game, so we thought rest was probably the right thing to do,” McDermott said. “This is athletics and sometimes guys get hurt and someone needs to step up.”
Shereef Mitchell made his first start of the season and had 10 points, three rebounds and a steal to go with three assists against just one turnover in 22 minutes.
Mitchell said he was told a couple hours before the game that he would start.
“When your name is called,” he said, “just be ready to show out and play, and I think I did a pretty good job of that today.”
Creighton’s balance overshadowed Julian Champagnie’s career-high 33-point, 10-rebound performance for St. John’s.
Duke transfer Alex O’Connell came off the bench to score a season-high 16 points for the Bluejays. Mitch Ballock added 14 points, Damien Jefferson had 11 and Christian Bishop had 10.
The Bluejays led 56-39 at halftime, their most points in a first half as a Big East member and most against any Division I opponent in three seasons.
The bulge ballooned to 22 points in the middle of the second half before St. John’s went on a 16-5 spurt to get within 11 in the last four minutes. Mahoney and Ballock hit back-to-back 3s as the Bluejays outscored the Red Storm 10-3 to end a game in which they had a season-high 16 3-pointers.
Champagnie said the Red Storm need to get better defensively. They’re last in the Big East in field-goal defense and second-to-last in defending the 3.
“We can’t rely on our offense to beat teams,” he said. “I feel like that’s where we are right now.”
St. John’s: Outside of Champagnie, the Red Storm don’t have the firepower to hang with Creighton. Their most lopsided losses of the season have come against the Bluejays.
Creighton: McDermott has built a team that can survive and even thrive without its best player. O’Connell, who hit three straight 3s in the first half as the Bluejays built their big lead, introduced himself to the Big East in a big way in his sixth game since becoming eligible.
Creighton had assists on 24 of 37 baskets and eight players had at least two assists, with Jefferson, Ballock and Antwann Jones passing for four apiece. … Freshman 7-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner blocked four shots, and three of his four field goals were dunks. … Champagnie was 13 of 21 from the field, including 4 of 6 on 3-pointers. … Marcellus Earlington came off the bench for St. John’s to score 13 points, double his average.
St. John’s hosts Butler on Tuesday.
Creighton visits Butler on Saturday.