By Greg Echlin
At dawn of Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 16, the Creighton Bluejays had an ongoing dream. By the end of that day, the dream had turned into what is now a nightmare.
Starting with a signature win over Wisconsin—ranked ninth at the time in the weekly AP poll—in the Bluejays’ second game of the season, Creighton rolled out a 13-0 start, its best since the Bluejays took a 16-0 record into the NIT when it meant something in 1943. At Madison Square Garden in New York, the Bluejays lost their only game of the season against Washington & Jefferson, now a Division III school outside Pittsburgh.
This season a loss to defending NCAA champion Villanova on New Year’s Eve served as the lone blemish going into CU’s road game at Xavier on Jan. 16, a game the Bluejays won but with doubt creeping in after point guard Maurice Watson Jr. went down with a knee injury. Creighton’s worst fear was confirmed when Watson Jr. was declared done for the season with a torn ACL.
Watson was the nation’s assist leader in Division I, ranked fourth in steals and averaged 13 points a game as the team’s second-leading scorer.
“There’s been a lot of adjustments and tinkering. And experimentation, I guess, for lack of a better word to try to figure out what’s best going forward,” said Bluejays coach Greg McDermott after beating Big East basement dweller DePaul at home on Jan. 28.
Now comes the word that a felony warrant was issued for the arrest of Watson Jr. on a first-degree charge of sexual assault. Prior to the Bluejays’ home loss to Providence, the university issued a statement that Watson Jr. was suspended from all athletic-related activities.
Translation: Don’t look for Watson Jr. on the bench or anywhere close to the basketball team. At Tuesday’s (Feb. 28) final home game of the year, the Bluejay seniors will be recognized. Not Watson Jr.
Making matters worse is the team’s struggle to deal with its new roles on the court. Freshman Davion Mintz inherited the point guard duties starting each game. But when the game was on the line against Providence, Mintz was on the bench during crunch-time because of his defensive liabilities. Marcus Foster, the transfer from Kansas State, took over the ball-handling duties. But let’s face it, Foster as the team’s leading scorer is trying to figure out how put the ball in the bucket instead of dishing it to someone else.
As great a start as the Bluejays had this season, they’ll have a 4-6 record since the Watson Jr. injury on Jan. 16 heading into Senior Night.
For a men’s basketball program that has never played past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, it doesn’t bode well for their chances to break that mold again this year.