St. John's planned on letting Creighton star Doug McDermott get his in order to shut down his teammates on Tuesday night, and that strategy worked for 39 minutes and 57.2 seconds until the All-American sent the Red Storm packing.
With 11 seconds left and the Red Storm down by two, Rysheed Jordan drove the lane and drew a foul on Austin Chatman. The freshman stepped up to the free throw line and sunk both attempts in the face of screaming Creighton students and a sold out CenturyLink Center Omaha crowd. With 17,515 people hushed, St. John's head coach, Steve Lavin, took a full timeout to prepare for the Jays' final possession.
Sharpshooter Ethan Wragge inbounded the ball from underneath the CU's own basket to Austin Chatman who raced his defender down the right sideline before handing the ball to an overlapping Jahenns Manigat. Manigat took the ball around a Wragge screen toward the center of the court and spotted McDermott.
Chris Obekpa, one of the nation's premier shot blockers and the man assigned to McDermott, instinctively ran into the lane to stop penetration instead of sticking to his most dangerous assignment. As Manigat's pass traveled to McDermott, Obekpa raced back to the perimeter through a questionable screen set by Isaiah Zierden. McDermott flared off the pick, creating more space to shoot, and drained his fifth 3-pointer of the night with just 2.8 second on the clock, causing the arena to erupt. SJU's desperation heave never appeared on line, and McDermott's 39 points, a season high, proved to be three points too much for the Red Storm's strategy.
After the game, both teams admitted there wasn't much question who would take CU's last shot, but the fourth-year coach of the Red Storm explained the difficulty in applying the proper amount of pressure on McDermott.
"It's tough because they have, you know, a good basketball team," said Lavin. "So, it's the combination of an All-American, a Player of the Year candidate, that plays well with his teammates who are very capable. That's why they're a handful to prepare for and play against."
McDermott beat St. Joe's at the buzzer earlier in the season, but that feeling didn't measure up to his clutch shot in front of his home crowd.
"I thought this was the best feeling I've ever had," said the Jays' star. "That St. Joe's one was pretty special too, but this definitely tops it."
The senior insisted the team remained calm during the timeout leading up to the shot. Although Grant Gibbs couldn't help on the court, his presence in the huddle helped the Jays remain in control, according to his friend. The encouragement from the sixth-year senior and the Jays' coaching staff helped mentally, but executing end-of-game scenarios in practice also helped the Jays make the right decision when doing so was of the utmost importance.
"Through repetition and going through that last-second situation so much in practice, and the other type of plays that we have for those situations, we know where the ball is supposed to go," said Manigat. "So when he made that read, it was kind of like second nature for me, just pass him the ball and make him make the shot."
Creighton made the right play at the game's climax, but during the buildup that was hardly the case. Although McDermott already reached 20 points, and Creighton led 29-25 at the half, they entered intermission with an unusually high 10 turnovers to just five assists.
It looked like the Jays harnessed their carelessness with the ball early in the second half, opening on a 19-5 run and controlling an 18-point lead with just over 12 minutes to play, but Jordan and D'Angelo Harrison helped the Red Storm erase the deficit by cranking up their defensive pressure and forcing CU into turnovers.
With 4:07 left and the home team up by eight, Jordan ripped Devin Brooks and found Jakarr Sampson for a three-point play. Less than a minute later, a poor inbounds pass from McDermott ended up in the hands of Obekpa, who found Jordan for a layup. A minute after Jordan's bucket that cut the lead to four, Avery Dingman turned it over and missed a triple on consecutive trips, which led to an Obekpa dunk, a Sampson layup and a tied game with 1:37 left. Following a 30 second timeout, McDermott put the Jays back in front with a layup off a pass from Ethan Wragge. Creighton had a chance to increase the lead to four before Jordan's eventual tying free throws, but Obekpa's defense forced McDermott into an awkward shot, which the 6-foot-9 center rebounded.
The Red Storm scored CU 21 points off 17 CU turnovers and outscored the Jays 18-0 in transition. Coach McDermott was relieved to be talking about a win after those stats that usually favor CU went in SJU's direction so dramatically.
"The only negative is… there were two," said Coach McDermott. "Obviously, our turnovers and that's a result of their length and athletic ability, and some of it was a casual approach we had offensively that you can't have against a team like St. John's."
McDermott's highest scoring output of the season came at a needed time with St. John's effectively limiting his teammates. No other Jay reached double figures. Austin Chatman was next in line with seven points, while Will Artino added six. The talk of college basketball a week ago, Wragge, was limited to one make on three attempts from deep.
McDermott did get some help on the glass, where CU outrebounded the Red Storm 33-27. Dingman grabbed a career-high nine rebounds, and Chatman nabbed seven, while McDermott finished with six. All things considered, McDermott's performance on Tuesday sits closely to what most regard as his best outing, according to his father and coach.
"I would say it's right there with Wichita last year," Coach McDermott said in reference to his son's 41-point performance with the regular season Missouri Valley Conference title on the line. "We had some guys that didn't play their best games, a few guys that weren't feeling the best, and we needed a horse. He was it."
Jays Ride Out Storm on McDermott's Back
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