Wins have a way of masking teams’ flaws.
The Colonials’ 15-3 record, including a huge home win over VCU last week, had been the blush over one of GW’s biggest blemishes for the past few weeks: the paltry production of leading scorer Maurice Creek.
Not only were Creek’s shots missing, but mental mistakes – like stepping out of bounds – were leaving fans shaking their heads. Head coach Mike Lonergan remained confident.
“Mo Creek’s going to get hot again, that’s for sure,” Lonergan said after his team’s 69-56 win over Rhode Island two weeks ago, in which Creek scored just four points.
Creek’s performance Saturday in St. Bonaventure’s raucous arena rewarded that confidence. The graduate transfer student rediscovered his stroke, leading all scorers with 21 points, while sinking five three-pointers to help GW break away for the 79-71 victory.
Creek’s production may mean he’s back – or it may mean he was never really gone. Shooters are bound to have rough patches, anyway, he said. Maybe more telling, Creek’s skid shows the Colonial offense can adapt when it needs to.
“Nobody’s gonna have a perfect game every day,” Creek said. “Coach has been on my back about just staying mindful of being a scorer for this team and being a leader for this team and that’s what I’m gonna do.”
The guard’s resurgence gives GW a backcourt boost with nagging injuries of guards Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage. McDonald has dealt all season with a hip injury – one that could require surgery after the season. Savage, meanwhile, just suffered an ankle sprain that has him playing day-to-day.
“Creek gives them another dimension. They didn’t have that shooter last year, and against us he shoots 5-10,” St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt said in an Atlantic 10 teleconference. “They’re big inside, they’ve got good perimeter players and when they shoot the ball from three, they make it that much more difficult to guard them.”
When the season began, not many would’ve expected Creek to become the clutch, go-to scorer that he has turned into. His game-winning shot against Maryland last month made his presence known throughout college basketball.
As his profile rose, defenses took note.
Opponents began to key in, putting their best defender on him and keeping a hand in his face at all times. Even with the motion offense that Lonergan likes to run, Creek couldn’t find separation. When teammates set him screens, the defenders fought through them. When Creek roamed the three-point line, defenders’ eyes stalked him.
The result: a combined 6-25 shooting from the field and 2-14 shooting from behind the arc in the first three conference games. In two straight games, he would not hit a three. His scoring average slowly declined, dropping from 16.3 points per game – where it hovered for four games – down to 14.1.
In those games where Creek struggled, though, the Colonials’ inside game began to flourish. Sophomore Kevin Larsen recorded back-to-back career performances, scoring 17 points against Rhode Island and then a career-high 22 against VCU. Senior Isaiah Armwood complemented his frontcourt partner with three consecutive double-double performances.
Even though Creek’s production was modest, he was still in defenders’ heads.
“The addition of Mo Creek gives them, certainly, a guy that you just have to really account for,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said after his team’s 76-66 loss to GW. “He didn’t have a huge night tonight, but you have to account for him and focus on him, and that allows certain other guys to get going.”
The Bonnies responded differently. They packed in the paint with 7-footer Youssou Ndoye and let Creek hurt them from outside if he could.
Creek’s 21-point night solidified Lonergan’s decision to keep him in the starting lineup over the surging Patricio Garino. It’s likely Lonergan wants to make sure his team doesn’t revert back to last year’s performances, when the Colonials finished dead last in the Atlantic 10 in three-point shooting.
GW may have survived Creek’s recent funk, but if they want to do something special this season and make an NCAA Tournament run, the team will need Creek to be special as well.