After Ethan Wragge and the Creighton Bluejays (21-4, 11-2) singed the nets of Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Arena in a 96-68 win over Villanova (22-3, 10-2) on January 20th, Wildcats coach, Jay Wright, vowed the rematch in Omaha would be different. The result, however, was much the same, as the Jays rolled to a 101-80 victory in front of the second-largest home crowd in Creighton history on Sunday afternoon.
Both games resulted in huge wins for Creighton, but February's game was not a carbon copy of January's affair. Instead of Wragge shooting the Wildcats out of the game early, it was Doug McDermott who anchored the early offense by scoring the Bluejays' first 11 points on a pair of 3-pointers, a traditional three-point play and a layup off a Grant Gibbs assist.
McDermott's first bucket, a triple off a feed from Austin Chatman, gave the Jays a 3-2 lead 30 seconds into the game. The hosts never trailed the rest of the way. After scoring 24 points on eight makes from deep in the opening half of the first meeting, Wragge was held to two points from the charity stripe in the first half.
"Last time they hurt us with the threes, and we took that away. And this time they just drove the ball on us. We didn't guard the dribble well," said Wright. "We adjusted; they adjusted and did the same thing."
The Wildcats opting to defend the perimeter tighter meant less frequent double-teaming and fronting of McDermott. The All-American capitalized at the expense of his defender, regardless of who it was. When Ochefu started the game on the CU star, McDermott capitalized on the 6-foot-11 forward's inability to stop his outside shot, hitting his first two threes in a matter of 65 seconds. When James Bell and Jayvaughn Pinkston switched onto McDermott, CU's senior started getting buckets off a variety of dribble drives and off-ball cuts to the hoop. When McDermott hit the locker room at halftime, he had already scored 22 points on 8 of 11 shooting – including 3 of 4 from deep – and the Jays led 50-37.
"They were talking about touching Ethan all the time, make sure you can touch him," Coach McDermott said of the Wildcats' strategy. "If you can do that, then Doug is going to have space, and Doug plays pretty good in space."
McDermott wasn't the only player working well in the extra room during the opening half. With the Jays owning a narrow lead midway through the opening period, Grant Gibbs picked up his second foul and headed to the bench. Ten seconds later, Jahenns Manigat was whistled for the second time and joined Gibbs for the rest of the half.
After Darrun Hilliard knocked down both free throws, the Jays had a two-point lead and two starters on the bench, but the reserves that were chosen to fill in, did so admirably. Isaiah Zierden's seven points in the opening 20 were second to McDermott, while fellow bench players Devin Brooks and Avery Dingman added five and four points, respectively.
"It was just focus," said Zierden, who finished with a career-high 13 points. "We were ready when our numbers were called and we just got to keep working. Jahenns and Grant picking up those fouls were huge, but we tried to do our best in picking up where they left off."
McDermott polished off another sensational performance with a 17-point second half, giving him 39 in the win that put CU back atop the BIG EAST standings. Following last year's 41-point outing against Wichita State with the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title on the line, McDermott has grown comfortable playing in big games in front of 18,000 plus people, as was the case on Sunday.
"I live for these kinds of games," McDermott said. "These are the best, especially playing against a top 10 team here in Omaha. I don't think any of us ever thought we would see this day."
With their superstar shining and the Wildcats continually worried about 3-point shooters, CU's alternative options continued to exploit a busted defense. Brooks and Gibbs joined McDermott and Zierden in double figures by frequently beating defenders off the bounce.
"Obviously with the performance we had in the first game, we weren't going to have that many threes open, and we shot it really well from three, but didn't have as many attempts because they took that away," said Gibbs. "I thought we did a good job of knowing that is probably what they were going to do and driving the ball."
That ability to pick up the differences from the first meeting paid off in what both coaches agreed was a more complete performance than the twine burning in Philadelphia.
"I think they might have executed better tonight, just recognizing what we were doing" said the Villanova head coach.
"I didn't think we could play much better than we played at Villanova, but I'm not sure that we didn't play better today" said McDermott. "We didn't have the crazy shooting night from the three-point line, but the other parts of the game were really good. I thought our ball movement was outstanding, we hung in there on the backboards and, for the most part, we were able to establish transition game, which is what we really wanted to have happen coming into this."
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