After Sunday's contest between No. 11 Creighton (23-4, 13-2) and Seton Hall (14-13, 5-9), both Greg McDermott and Kevin Willard agreed that the 72-71 Bluejay victory was a result of what happened at the free throw line.
"Sometimes, over the course of a season, you have to find a way to not be perfect and win, and tonight was an example of that, especially with our free throw shooting," McDermott said of his team's 20-of-31 performance from the line. "Last time we shot free throws like this, we lost to St. John's."
Doug McDermott made all four of CU's free throws in the first half, but the second half was a different story. Creighton led by six with 12:13 left in the game, and Devin Brooks headed to the line. The junior, however, missed both tries. Will Artino corralled a Brian Oliver miss and was fouled by Eugene Teague on the following possession. Artino missed both of his free throws, leaving CU vulnerable.
The Bluejays' inability to put the Pirates away nearly cost the hosts. Brandon Mobley fouled Doug McDermott with 21 seconds left, Pirates trailing by three. McDermott shocked the 18,742 in attendance by missing both. Coach McDermott then opted to foul up by three and sent Fuquan Edwin to the line. Edwin capitalized, cutting the difference to one. Ethan Wragge was sent to the line soon after he grabbed a loose ball. Wragge left both of his free throws short, and the Jays were reduced to watching Edwin's shot at a game-winner sail off course.
"We kind of won an ugly way," said McDermott, who finished with 29 points. "You know, me and Ethan don't miss those free throws much."
Seton Hall's coach believes the Pirates may not have found themselves in such a predicament had they kept the Jays off the line. The Jays shot just four freebees in the first half, but attempted 27 in the final 20 minutes.
"I think their ability to get to the free throw line as much as they did gave them a chance to set up their defense and made us work," said Willard. "I really thought they got to the free throw line, and then we had to come and really grind (it) out against them."
Unlike Creighton, the visitors had few problems at the stripe, making 14 of 15. Willard's team also dominated CU on the boards, grabbing 34 rebounds to the Jays' 20. Teague, who spent two years at Southern Illinois, was especially bothersome. Standing 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, the center scored 14 points and grabbed 11 boards against the undersized Jays.
"Credit them, because they really took advantage of Teague inside," McDermott said. "He's a lot bigger than me or Ethan or Will (Artino). So, you know, he's tough to stop and we had to double team that allowed them to get probably more open looks than we'd like them to."
On the afternoon his Bobblehead doll was given to fans, McDermott showed why he was worthy of the honor. McDermott's 29 points, on 8-of-14 from the field, led all scorers. Creighton started the second half up two, but expanded the lead to 10 in the first three minutes after the two-time All-American scored seven of the Jays' first 10 points. McDermott scored 19 points in the second half and moved into 10th place on the NCAA's list of leading scorers.
McDermott did struggle from three, making just 1-of-4 attempts, but Grant Gibbs did not. The veteran guard sank 3-of-4 triples, including one with just four seconds left in the first half that put the Jays up two. Gibbs was the only other Bluejays in double figures with 16 points.
"Just made a couple shots, you know, nothing more than that really," said Gibbs "You know, they did a good job defensively."
Seton Hall was without their Gibbs, Sterling, who was not with the Pirates Sunday. Willard downplayed the importance of his absence following the game and stated that the point guard's status remains uncertain.
With the win, the Jays remain atop the BIG EAST standings. Road games at Xavier and Georgetown are scheduled before CU returns home for Providence on"Senior Day." With three quality opponents left on the schedule, the Jays will be focused on eliminating errors, like missed free throws.
"We've put ourselves in a good position; now, we've got to see what we can do with it," Coach Mac said following the game. "We're going to play three teams that are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives, and those are scary teams to play because they're going to throw everything but the kitchen table at you, they're focused, their intensity is going to be off the charts and we've got to find a way to match that and then some."
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