NEW YORK (AP) Creighton coach Greg McDermott gave a scouting report on his 7-foot freshman, Justin Patton.
“Justin’s best basketball is still ahead of him. He continues to grow and improve, and a lot of that goes to his work ethic,” McDermott said after Patton had a season-high 25 points and nine rebounds as the 10th-ranked Bluejays beat St. John’s 85-72 on Wednesday night. “As good as he was offensively he was better defensively, and that wasn’t the case the first five games. His patience, his footwork are off the charts.”
Patton, who finished 11 of 14 from the field, might not be one of the best-known big men in the country, but games like Wednesday will have him moving up NBA draft lists.
This was Creighton’s first game since its first loss of the season, New Year’s Eve to No. 1 Villanova.
“We were ready for this game and that’s the reason we played so well in the first half – kept putting up points and played defense,” Patton said. “We were attacking and getting to the rim and made the right play most of the time.”
The Bluejays (14-1, 2-1 Big East) saw their 13-game winning streak end – the school’s longest since 1942-43 – against Villanova but they came ready to play against the Red Storm.
“I was scared to death of this game,” McDermott said. “They were playing so well in their three-game winning streak. They are just learning how to win.”
Patton led Creighton’s huge advantage over St. John’s in points in the paint, 52-24.
During one sequence, Patton scored on two layups, blocked a shot and then hit a 3-pointer that gave the Bluejays a 42-24 lead with 51 seconds left in the first half. Creighton scored the first six points of the second to take a 50-26 lead, its biggest of the game.
“He’s only going to continue to get better,” McDermott said.
St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said about Patton: “He reminds me of Marcus Camby. The good hands, the length.”
Marcus LoVett had 23 points to lead the Red Storm (8-8, 2-1), who finally got their offense going but got no closer than 63-55.
Maurice Watson Jr. scored 19 points for Creighton, and Marcus Foster added 15.
The best individual job of defense on the Creighton side came from Khryi Thomas, who did a good job shutting down freshman star Shamorie Ponds early.
“Khyri has been solid all year for us and he has really developed as a defensive player,” McDermott said. “He has really committed to that end of the floor. I was hoping his length would give Shamorie trouble and it did.”
Ponds averaged almost 21 points on 50 percent shooting in the three-game winning streak. With Thomas all over him on the defensive end, Ponds was able to score 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
“I’ll say he did a good job, but I should have been more aggressive,” Ponds said. “They had a good game plan and they executed it. By far they were the toughest team we played physically and they will be really hard to beat on the road.”
Creighton: Coming into this game, Creighton had trailed for a total of 83:17 out of 560 minutes. The loss to Villanova marked the only time this season the Bluejays trailed in the final 3 minutes of a game and only the second time they trailed in the final 8 minutes. … Watson entered leading the nation with 9.1 assists per game. He had five Wednesday. … Creighton’s name appears a lot in the national statistics. The Bluejays are ninth in scoring (88.4), second in field goal percentage (53.7) and second in 3-point shooting (43.0).
St. John’s: The last time St. John’s beat a Top 10 team in Carnesecca Arena (then Alumni Hall) was Dec. 9, 1975, defeating No. 7 Tennessee, which featured Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. … Federico Mussini returned to the team after missing three games with an injury. He finished with five points. … Ponds was Big East freshman of the week for the third time in the last four weeks. He had 26 points in the upset of then-No. 13 Butler.
The Bluejays didn’t drop following the loss to Villanova, and wins like this one should keep them in the Top 10.
Creighton shot 52.3 percent (34 for 65) while St. John’s made just 39.4 percent (28 of 71) from the field. Neither shot well from 3-point range as the Bluejays were 5 of 18 and the Red Storm were 7 of 22. Creighton’s huge advantage in points in the paint was hard to explain as both teams grabbed 40 rebounds. Both teams had eight turnovers and four blocked shots.
Creighton: The Bluejays are at Providence on Saturday and then head home to host No. 18 Butler.
St. John’s: The Red Storm head back on the road to face No. 16 Xavier on Saturday and are at Georgetown on Monday.