With four returning starters from last year's Sweet 16 team, No.14 Creighton never panicked when Wisconsin made its runs and let its All-American forward take over, as junior Doug McDermott pushed the Bluejays into the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational with a 84-74 victory at Orleans Arena Friday night.
In a game that featured 10 ties and 18 lead changes, it was McDermott – the nation's leading returning scorer – who scored a season and game-high 30 points and did everything right, except shoot a high percentage and have a good assist-to-turnover ratio (1-to-5).
"You put it on the back of your All-American at the end," said associate head coach Greg Gard. "That's a great lesson to younger players out there. It doesn't matter what position you are. You can affect the game in so many ways, as I thought Doug did. He did so many things. He got to the free throw line and was so efficient in what he did."
But even though McDermott – who shot 10-for-23 – carried the Bluejays (4-0) at points, it was the role players that pushed Creighton into the championship against Arizona State.
Ethan Wragge had 17 points, including a 3-pointer that put Creighton up for good, 61-60 with 7:40 left and hit another 3-pointer two minutes later when sophomore guard Traevon Jackson failed to rotate over.
McDermott had five points on the run, Josh Jones hit a jumper and Austin Chapman had two of his career-high 14 points during the stretch, as Creighton shot 62 percent in the second half. The Bluejays also made all six of their field goals and 88 percent from the free throw line for the game and 88.2 percent (15-for-17) in the second half.
"They are a bunch of very good players led by Doug," said Gard.
After McDermott, no other Creighton played attempted more than seven shots, but the run wiped out Jared Berggren's personal run to give Wisconsin (3-2) a lead.
Scoring 12 straight points and 14 of 17 during an eight-minute stretch in the second half, Berggren helped Wisconsin go on a 12-3 run to regain the lead - 60-58 with 8:10 left in regulation. After that, Creighton took control and never relented.
"You like to hang on to that and be able to stretch it a little bit," said Gard. "They are pretty experienced and have been in that situation before, so they didn't get rattled at all."
After attempting only five shots and scoring six points in Tuesday's win over Presbyterian, Berggren was balanced with his 14 shots – nine inside the perimeter, five from 3-point range – and went 7-for-8 from the free throw line. He also grabbed seven rebounds.
Ryan Evans added 15 points and team highs in rebounds (8), assists (3) and steals (2) and George Marshall added 13, but Wisconsin relied on Berggren so much in the second half that he had to leave the game briefly at one point because of leg cramps.
It was needed, too, as Wisconsin's main guards – Ben Brust (2-for-12), Traevon Jackson (1-for-6) and Marshall (5-for-10) – shot 8-for-38.
"He stepped it up to another level, which was the Jared we'd been trying to get to come out of him full time," said Berggren. "Hopefully this is a sign of things to come that he can be a consistent force inside."
While Wisconsin's focus now will be on the third-place game against Arkansas tomorrow evening, the Badgers will eventually circle the first half Friday as a missed opportunity. Although Creighton shot only 37.8 percent in the first half, the Bluejays got 13 offensive rebounds that resulted in 15 second-chance points.
It allowed Creighton to trail by only one, 39-38, instead of having to dig out of an even deeper hole.
"We'll definitely learn from this," said Gard. "We've got to get better."