Creighton found itself in unfamiliar territory Friday afternoon in San Antonio.
The Bluejays appeared in the NCAA Tournaments for the third consecutive year, but this showing was different than year's past. Previously, the Bluejays looked to make headlines by upsetting a better seed. Nowadays, it's all about putting down the underdog.
The Bluejays escaped Louisiana-Lafayette by a 76-66 final score in a game that was closer than the 10-point margin.
"As we've seen, the last couple of days have been a lot of crazy things that happened in this tournament," said coach Greg McDermott. "So you've just got to survive and advance somehow."
Doug McDermott dropped 30 points and grabbed 12 boards to keep his team dancing. The BIG EAST Player of the Year completed his double-double before halftime. He entered the break with 17 points and 10 boards, but CU's lead was only six after Elfrid Payton knocked down a 3-pointer seconds before the buzzer.
Payton, the Ragin Cajuns point guard, led his team with 24 points and eight rebounds, while guarding one of the country's best scorers on the opposite end.
"I think I did a good job keeping him uncomfortable," said Payton. "To his credit, he made some plays down the stretch, a big three and a tough two he made. As far as on the other end, it kind of affected me having to run around so much on the other end, but no excuses.
"He's an unbelievable player," McDermott said of Payton. "To do what he did on the offensive end, while trying I was trying to make it as hard as possible all night to get him tired or get him in foul trouble. So he's got a motor like none other."
Midway through the second half, it looked as if Payton's motor was functioning better than McDermott's. Creighton's leading scorer hit a jumper with 16:13 left in the game which made the score 46-41, but then he went quiet. Louisiana capped a 9-0 run that gave them the lead on a Payton layup four minutes later. Greg McDermott took a timeout with the Jays down four in the second half.
Grant Gibbs made a layup off the stoppage before Ethan Wragge connected on a pair of triples, giving CU a four-point lead after a quick 8-0 run. Five minutes and change later, Wragge put CU up six with his fourth 3-pointer of the game.
Wragge finished the game with 12 points, but McDermott and Austin Chatman still had work to do to prevent the upset. After the last "Wraggebomb," Chatman completed a traditional three-point play before knocking down a 3-pointer off a pass from McDermott that put CU up eight. The junior point guard finished with 16 points, five rebounds and six assists in his home state.
"He was so good; not just making a few shots, but he got into the teeth of that defense," said the Creighton coach. "He made some plays for himself. He made some plays for his teammates. We switched him on to Payton for a few possessions just to try to put a little quickness on him. We ask him to do so much."
McDermott put the game on ice down the stretch. After a prolonged silence, McDermott made his presence known in the final three minutes. Payton knocked down a pair from the line to bring ULL within four with 2:28 on the clock.
On CU's next possession McDermott switched things up. After cutting to the basket all night for layups, McDermott set up his man and flared to the arc instead of cutting to the basket. Gibbs found McDermott open and McDermott put the Jays up seven.
"You know, they're making it tough on me for a good 10 minutes or 12 minutes where it's really hard to get any looks," said McDermott. "So we ran that play, and Ethan set a great screen to get my guy. We make that play all the time. So it felt good to get that one to go in, and that kind of got my confidence going to the next play where I drive it to the baseline."
McDermott scored a layup on the next trip before adding two free throws later to put Creighton through. The Bluejays will play Baylor on Sunday night in San Antonio with the winner advancing to the "Sweet 16."
Jays Advance to Round of 32
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