OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Creighton has begun to pull itself out of the funk that set in with the season-ending injury to star Maurice Watson Jr.
Khyri Thomas scored 18 points, Marcus Foster had 15 and the 16th-ranked Bluejays beat DePaul 83-66 on Saturday.
Justin Patton added 14 points as Creighton (19-3, 6-3 Big East) won for the first time in three games since Watson was shelved by a major knee injury.
“The most important thing is it’s good to see these guys smile again,” coach Greg McDermott said. “It’s been a tough 10 days or so for our program. Everyone understands why. There have been a lot of adjustments and tinkering and experimentation, for lack of a better word, to try to figure out what’s best going forward.”
The Bluejays looked lost without Watson in their previous two games, losses of 102-94 at home to Marquette and 71-51 at Georgetown. A convincing win over the Big East’s last-place team was a good tonic, but next up is a trip to No. 11 Butler, a team the Bluejays beat 75-64 at home two weeks ago.
“This is just one game, and it’s a step in the right direction,” forward Cole Huff said. “I still think we have a lot of stuff we’ll watch on film that we need to clean up. Butler might be a top-10 team next week. They came here and probably weren’t too happy with the result. Today’s a start. We hope to keep going and see what happens.”
Billy Garrett Jr. scored 18 points and Brandon Cyrus had 12 for the Blue Demons (8-13, 1-7).
Playing only their second game in 12 days, the Blue Demons started 1 for 14 from the field on mostly rushed or bad shots. Starters Eli Cain, Tre’Darius McCallum and Garrett each committed three fouls in the first half.
“We were mentally and physically to start the game a little behind where we normally are and should be,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “You can’t have an expectation in this environment that you can walk in and try to go blow for blow if you’re not as locked in.”
Creighton led by 21 early, but the Blue Demons got to 44-29 at half and were within 46-37 on a Garrett 3-pointer early in the second half.
The Bluejays put away the Blue Demons with three dunks in two minutes. Thomas passed to Patton on back-to-back possessions for a dunk and an easy layup, Foster dunked off Tyler Clement’s pass and Thomas got a jam of his own to make it 75-58 with 5 minutes left.
Creighton has won 10 of its last 11 meetings with DePaul, including eight of nine since joining the Big East in 2013. Each of the last nine meetings has been decided by 10 or more points.
“Credit coach McDermott today. He really had his guys ready,” Leitao said. “They lost a couple of games in a row and it was time to batten down the hatches. As a result, I thought their overall performance from start to finish was really solid.”
DePaul: The Blue Demons couldn’t overcome the big hole they dug for themselves. They have lost four straight and remain winless on the road.
Creighton: After their worst performance of the season in a loss at Georgetown on Wednesday, the Bluejays rediscovered some offensive flow. But questions linger over who is going to take command of the point guard spot. Davion Mintz started and played 14 minutes, but reserve Clement got 23 minutes.
THOMAS’ BIG DAY
Thomas played one of his best overall games. He also had seven rebounds and six assists.
“I kind of needed it bad,” he said. “The last two games weren’t strong games.”
A 17-point win might not be enough to keep Creighton in the Top 25. The Bluejays’ stock has dropped with the loss of Watson and miserable outings against Marquette and Georgetown.
DePaul hosts Georgetown on Tuesday in a meeting of the teams at the bottom of the Big East.
Creighton visits Butler on Tuesday.