ST. LOUIS -- Creighton was on upset alert after Illinois State knocked off top seed Wichita State in the opening semifinal of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Needlessly, as it turned out.
Gregory Echenique had a season-best 20 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in just 20 minutes, and the 25th-ranked Bluejays also clicked from outside in a 99-71 rout of Evansville on Saturday that put them in the title game.
"I'm very happy and I feel like we played hard," Echenique said. "We actually made a statement."
Doug McDermott added 14 points and nine rebounds and Antoine Young had 13 points for the second-seeded Bluejays (27-5), who were 8 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half while building a 19-point cushion and shot 60 percent overall. They entered the day leading the nation with 50.7 field goal percentage and were third in 3-point shooting at 42 percent.
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The 6-foot-9 Echenique was 8 for 11 from the field and is a 77 percent career shooter (24 for 31) in five career games against Evansville, which lacks inside presence.
"They were hard to guard in all aspects," Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. "We had a hard time getting out to their shooters and they beat us up on the boards as well."
Creighton carries a six-game winning streak into the championship game against No. 4 seed Illinois State, which erased a 13-point second half deficit in a 65-64 upset over No. 15 Wichita State. Creighton has won the tournament six of the last 13 seasons and is seeking its first trip to the NCAAs since 2007.
The Valley has had just one NCAA bid the last four seasons, but has a shot for three if Illinois State pulls another upset. Wichita State was the regular-season champion with a 10 RPI and Creighton also has strong credentials.
"I think everybody on our team would want Wichita in the finals," Young said. "That would have been nice, but it is what it is. It's just another opportunity to go out and prove ourselves."
Creighton is rested heading into the final. McDermott played 23 minutes and Young 20. Coach Greg McDermott planned on getting the bench heavily involved.
"It worked out great, we got a win and we didn't play guys 27 minutes," McDermott said. "We felt like we had a little bit more depth and we could keep fresh guys on Colt Ryan and Denver Holmes.
"They don't have another Colt Ryan and Denver Holmes coming off the bench that can do what those guys can do."
Kenny Harris had 17 points and Ryan 13 for Evansville (16-15), which has lost 14 of its last 16 to Creighton. Ryan, who scored 43 points in a 93-92 overtime loss at Creighton on Feb. 21, was just 3 for 12 from the field.
"It wasn't about me trying to go out and score as many as I could," Ryan said. "I think the big thing was we couldn't stop them. We really needed to block out a little better because they got of second-chance points."
Three Evansville players - Ryan, Holmes and Troy Taylor - played at least 30 minutes.
Creighton finished 2-1 against Evansville, outrebounding the Aces 43-17 on Saturday.
"We're obviously disappointed with the result, but overall I'm really proud of the guys," Simmons said. "Creighton was just really, really good today."
The Bluejays won both regular-season meetings against Illinois State, including a 28-point blowout at home Feb. 1.
"They're very streaky," Echenique said. "They can be a dangerous team and they obviously showed that today. I feel like we match up well and we'll be ready."
Echenique finished one point shy of his career high set with Rutgers. Creighton easily shrugged off technical fouls to Echinque and Will Artino for hanging on the rim after emphatic dunks.
Creighton dominated in all phases in the first half, shooting 60 percent with a 22-6 rebounding bulge. The points total was the school's best since the tournament went to a neutral site in 1991.
"They just outexecuted us," Harris said. "Those open 3s just killed us, and we got hurt on the glass."
|Gregory Echenique (season-high 20 points) and Creighton advance to the MVC finals where they'll face Illinois State. (AP)|
|Creighton #25 (27-5) «||49||50||99|
|EVAN:K. Harris 17 Pts
EVAN:T. Taylor 3 Reb
EVAN:T. Taylor 5 Ast
|CREIGH:G. Echenique 20 Pts
CREIGH:G. Echenique 9 Reb
CREIGH:A. Chatman 7 Ast
|PLAYERS OF THE GAME|
|C. Ryan, G-F||36||3-12||7-9||1||2||2||13|
|D. Holmes, G-F||34||4-11||0-0||0||2||1||11|
|T. Taylor, G||30||4-5||0-0||3||5||5||8|
|K. Harris, G-F||25||6-12||4-6||3||1||4||17|
|R. Sawvell, F||12||3-4||2-2||2||0||4||8|
|N. Cox, G||18||2-5||1-1||2||3||2||5|
|L. Jones, G-F||15||0-4||2-4||0||0||3||2|
|J. Moore, F-C||15||2-3||0-0||3||0||1||4|
|R. Cesnulevicius, F-C||7||0-0||0-0||0||0||1||0|
|M. Peeler, F-C||4||1-1||1-3||1||0||0||3|
|J. Nelson, G||4||0-2||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|A. Chinn, G||Did Not Play|
|J. Jahr, G-F||Did Not Play|
|B. Williams, G||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|G. Gibbs, G||27||2-6||0-0||2||2||2||6|
|D. McDermott, F||23||3-4||8-10||9||1||1||14|
|A. Young, G||20||3-4||7-7||2||6||0||13|
|G. Echenique, C||19||8-11||4-5||9||0||1||20|
|J. Manigat, G||19||1-2||1-2||3||0||2||4|
|A. Chatman, G||20||1-3||0-0||2||7||0||2|
|J. Jones, G||19||4-5||0-0||1||3||1||12|
|E. Wragge, F||16||2-5||2-2||2||0||1||8|
|W. Artino, C||14||5-6||0-0||4||2||5||10|
|A. Dingman, G||13||2-4||0-0||3||0||1||6|
|D. Sebastian, G-F||4||0-0||1-2||1||0||1||1|
|M. Dorwart, F||3||1-1||0-0||0||0||1||3|
|T. Stormberg, G||3||0-2||0-0||1||1||2||0|
|R. Ferrarini, G||Did Not Play|
|G. Groselle, C||Did Not Play|
|N. Johnson, G-F||Did Not Play|
|M. Oginni, F||Did Not Play|
|A. Olsen, F||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|