Doug McDermott  Demetrius Treadwell

Efficient Doug McDermott leads No. 16 Creighton to 77-61 win over Akron

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Two of the better front court players in the country met at CenturyLink Center in Omaha on Saturday, as Zeke Marshall led the Akron Zips into a contest with Doug McDermott and the No. 16 Creighton Bluejays.

By the end of the afternoon McDermott had put together a performance that backed up the preseason Player of the Year hype, scoring 30 points and grabbing six rebounds to lead Creighton to the 77-61 victory.

McDermott, who was MVC Player of the Year last season, made ten of his 15 shots from the field (including 6-of-8 from beyond the arc). Sunday’s performance was McDermott’s second game of at least 30 points this season, making him the seventh player to score 30 or more points in two games in 2012-13.

Marshall finished the game with 12 points and two blocked shots, and Nick Harney led the Zips with 14 points, but early foul trouble for both Harney and point guard Alex Abreu got Akron into trouble in the first half.

The Zips were able to pull to within three points late in the first half but an 11-3 Creighton run left them trailing by 12 at the break, 43-31. Akron turned the ball over just 11 times but Creighton was able to convert those miscues into 14 points, and the Zips couldn’t recover from either that number of Abreu’s 1-of-7 day from the field.

Gregory Echenique guarded Marshall for much of the afternoon and contributed ten points and seven rebounds. Grant Gibbs dished out another eight assists without a turnover, and for the season Gibbs has 66 assists to just nine turnovers. Regardless of what label gets placed on Gibbs, there’s no doubt that the Creighton offensive machine is extremely difficult to stop with him on the floor.

Obviously the same can be said of McDermott, who has scored 21 points or more in six straight games. And while the junior has always been capable of knocking down perimeter shots you’ll be hard-pressed to find a stretch where he’s shot better from three.

McDermott is 17-of-23 from beyond the arc in the last four games, and on the season he’s hitting those shots at a 53.2% clip. Add to that his field goal (55.1%) and free throw (85.2%) percentages, and McDermott is clearly one of the nation’s most efficient players.

But even with McDermott’s 30-point afternoon Creighton showed once again that it’s not a one-man team. And that’s going to make for a lot of long nights for the opposition as the season wears on.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.