Creighton’s home court tough place for visitors

Adam Jardy
ajardy@dispatch.com
Chris Holtmann reacts to a foul call while coaching Butler during a January 2017 game at Creighton. Holtmann went went 1-2 with the Bulldogs at the CHI Health Center Omaha, which he called "a fantastic environment." [Nati Harnik/The Associated Press]

Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. North Carolina’s Dean E. Smith Center. Syracuse’s Carrier Dome.

In a college basketball career that has taken him to three schools in three conferences spread across five years, those are the three environments that Ohio State graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods says have been the best to play in.

On Thursday night, as the Buckeyes look to improve to 3-0, they will enter an arena that is known to college basketball purists to be right up there with those on Woods’ list. Ohio State will tip against Creighton as part of the Gavitt Games at the CHI Health Center Omaha, and it will get to experience the environment firsthand.

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The Bluejays have won 24 straight nonconference home games, the 10th-longest active streak in college basketball. With coach Greg McDermott on the sideline, Creighton is 68-4 in nonconference home games. Since the arena opened 16 years ago, the Bluejays have won 83 percent (215-44) of their home games.

Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann knows plenty about the place. His Butler teams went 1-2 there, with the one win coming in 2015 on a basket with 1.9 seconds left.

“I’d say one of the top three or four places I’ve ever coached in,” he said. “It’s a fantastic environment. They don’t lose there much at all. You can say that about a lot of places, but their environment has an impact on the game.”

In addition to possibly helping prepare the Buckeyes for what they will face on Thursday, the season-opener last week at Cincinnati also makes this the most challenging early-season stretch in recent OSU history.

Ohio State has not played two top-50 teams in the KenPom.com rankings among its first three games since 2002, when it hosted Coppin State (No. 287) before playing Alabama (No. 38) on a neutral court and Duke (No. 6) in North Carolina — but not at Cameron Indoor — as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

Cincinnati is No. 45, according to KenPom, and Creighton No. 37.

“We’ve got to be solid,” said Woods, who played in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Wake Forest. “We’ve got to stick to our game plan and when teams go on runs and their crowd is getting into it, just like at Cincinnati, we’ve got to take the crowd out of it for the majority of the game and stay connected as a group. As long as we’re connected as a group, we can go into any environment and win a game.”

Although it’s the first game of four in nine days, it’s the final of the opening three-game stretch that Holtmann has half-jokingly lamented throughout the summer when surveying his young team.

The Buckeyes are No. 256 nationally in experience with an average of 1.39 years per player, according to KenPom. Creighton is even younger, but it won’t play a true road game until an in-state showdown with Nebraska on Dec. 8.

Going into Creighton and winning won’t be easy, and the Buckeyes have pressing needs to improve with their attention to detail and rebounding efforts. But as sophomore Kaleb Wesson put it Wednesday, not many people predicted the Buckeyes would be be 2-0 when the ball is tipped on Thursday.

“We started this in June,” he said. “Everybody in our organization knew we were this good in June.”

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy

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