The historic career of Creighton's senior class ended in an unfortunate fashion in familiar territory on Sunday, as the sixth-seeded Baylor Bears caged the Bluejays in an 85-55 romp in third-round action in San Antonio.
The Bears utilized length and athleticism to stifle the Bluejays' normally potent offense. Creighton scored just 20 points in the first half, only three of which came from Doug McDermott. Creighton's all-time leading scorer finished with 15 points, which led the Jays, but struggled to find a rhythm in his 33 minutes on the floor.
"You know, it's something you can't really practice until you see it for the first time," McDermott said. "Those guys are really long and kind of compared them to John Henson (North Carolina) who we saw a couple years ago in the tournament, and we definitely struggled against them too.
Baylor, like the Tar Heels two years before, denied Creighton entrance into the Sweet 16 by keeping the McDermott-centric offense out of sync.
"They forced us to get it in the middle of that zone, and it's hard to score over those guys they're so long and athletic where they challenge every shot in there," said Doug McDermott. "So to their credit, they took away what we do best and kind of controlled the tempo of the game and made it hard on us."
Creighton's easiest score may have been its first. Grant Gibbs opened the game by deftly controlling possession off the tip and taking it in for a contested layup in transition. Cory Jefferson responded with jumpers on the Bears' first two trips and Creighton never recovered the lead.
"They did a good job of really tagging Doug and (Ethan) Wragge wherever they went," said coach Greg McDermott. "And some of our other players they gave a little more space, and almost dared some of our guards to take it inside, catch it at 15 feet, and there is nothing between the basket except for Isaiah Austin, which is quite a road block to get through when you catch it there."
While Creighton struggled to crack Baylor's defense, the Bears spent little time finding ways to score. After Jefferson scored the first four, Kenny Chery, Royce O'Neale and Brady Heslip gave the Bluejays a sampling of their own medicine, making their first five 3-pointers over the first seven minutes. Chery hit three times, while Heslip and O'Neale each sunk one. With Creighton compensating for the damage Jefferson and Austin could do offensively by helping with a guard, the BU shooters had space on the outside.
"I felt like they sagged off a little bit from me, and one thing I did was take advantage of that," Chery said. "My big man found me when I was wide open. My teammates did, and that's one thing I've got to credit them for, and I made shots."
Chery's third triple put the Bears up 19-7 and off they went. For as hot as the Bears started, the Bluejays opened just as cold. In the fateful first seven minutes, Jahenns Manigat missed a pair of threes, while McDermott, Wragge and Chatman each misfired one. Creighton made just 1-of-9 from three in the opening half and skidded into the half down 40-20.
"I thought today sometimes you execute well on the offense and defensive end and things just fall into place," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "I thought we had tremendous togetherness. The team really, 19 assists made each other better. Defensively, everyone got down and did a great job at what their assignments were. It's one of those games as a coach that you look back and say we were pretty good tonight."
Wragge connected on a pair of triples early in the second half, giving Creighton a glimmer of hope, but the Bears answered. Heslip called Wragge's first make before Austin and O'Neale produced buckets to keep the Jays from starting a run. Heslip and Austin led Baylor with 17 points, while Cherry and Jefferson added 14 apiece.
"They shoot the ball so well, so we knew that any point in time they could make a run and get back into the game," said Austin. "Basketball is a game of runs, but, at the same time, we knew we had them on their heels, and we wanted to step on their throat while we could."
The Bears toyed with the Bluejays the rest of the way, dunking and lobbing up alley-oops over the defeated Creighton defense until Greg McDermott waved the white flag with 2:39 on the clock. At that point, McDermott subbed each member of his prolific starting five off the floor, saving his final embrace for his son. What should be a lasting memory is one the coach wants his guys to forget.
"As I told the team, they need to erase this from their memory as quick as they possibly can," said McDermott. "This can't be what our seniors remember about this season or about their careers because they've accomplished so many wonderful things, so many incredible things."
"So I tip my hat to Baylor. They played a great basketball game tonight. The way they shot the basketball, I'm not sure our best would have even been good enough tonight."
The Bluejays end the season 27-8, while the Bears will leave Texas for Anaheim, CA where they'll face Wisconsin on Thursday.
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