Creighton star Doug McDermott was sensational from the tip. The senior forward scored 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting (2-of-6 3PT) while leading the Bluejays to their second comfortable win in as many days. His supporting cast also pitched in from the perimeter by knocking down an additional 9-of-19 from beyond the arc. McDermott's performance was enough to move him into fifth place all-time on the NCAA's all-time scoring list, passing up former Saint Peter's standout Keydren Clark as well as Texas Southern's Harry Kelly.
"Doug McDermott is the best player in the country," Xavier head coach Chris Mack said after the loss. "And when Wragge shoots the ball like he does from three at the five position, they're one of a kind. They're very, very difficult. Our hats are off to them."
Xavier now has to wait until Sunday to find out its fate in the NCAA tournament. The Musketeers have likely secured their spot in the big dance already, but there are varying opinions on where they stand seed-wise according to bracketologists. BracketMatrix.com, which compiles bracket projections from 100 different websites and averages the results, had Xavier in as an 11 seed after their win over Marquette last night and 98 of the sites had the Musketeers in the tournament, though not all 100 sites updated their brackets on Friday.
Mack feels his team has done enough to feel comfortable heading into Selection Sunday.
"I told these guys in the locker room, I couldn't be a prouder coach. When we were here in New York for Big East media day, on every posterboard it said 'Xavier seventh.' We finished third in the Big East our first year in a very tough league. We're going to be in the NCAA Tournament, and nobody outside our locker room walls felt that way when the season started."
The Musketeers split with Creighton during the regular season, losing to the Bluejays 95-89 in Omaha and beating them 75-69 at the Cintas Center. The biggest difference in those two games was Creighton shooting 50 percent from three (14-of-28) in the first game versus 29.4 percent (10-of-34) in the second game. Friday night's contest looked a lot more like the game at Creighton.
Creighton took an 11-4 lead into the first timeout. Seven of the Bluejays' first eight shot attempts were 3-pointers, and they made three of those.
McDermott, who set a Big East tournament record with 27 points in the first half against DePaul in the quarterfinals, scored 11 points in the first 10 minutes, despite Justin Martin being draped all over him.
Foul trouble set Xavier back in the first half as both Martin and Jalen Reynolds left the game with two fouls. When Reynolds picked his second foul up with 7:37 to play, the Musketeers were only down 24-20. A minute and a half later, Martin left the game with his second foul.
At that point, X had no answer for McDermott, and when they helped out on him, he typically had Wragge on the same side of the court waiting for a three. Creighton went on a 16-6 run after those two left the game for Xavier.
"It hurt because those guys are playing really well. " Mack said about Martin and Reynolds' foul trouble. "Justin had a great Big East tournament. He really relishes the challenge of trying to guard Doug McDermott. We just felt like we were playing from behind virtually the entire game. It's a tough team to catch up on because the more you want to get into their ball handlers and pressure them, the more the floor gets spaced."
A technical foul called on Mack allowed the Bluejays to score five straight on one possession and grow their lead to 42-28 with 1:44 to play in the half.
McDermott finished the first half with 19 points, while Wragge added 14.
Christon tried to take the game into his own hands by attempting 16 of the Musketeers' 31 shots in the first half, but there just wasn't enough help for him to keep pace with the Bluejays. He finished 6-of-16 from the floor for the half with 13 points and two assists.
The Bluejays continued to put on a shooting clinic in the first four minute war of the second half as they knocked down their first three shots of the half, including two threes, and stretched their lead to 53-39 at the first media timeout.
Around the 10 minute mark, the Musketeers started to look defeated and let the Bluejays reel off three consecutive easy buckets off of simple screen actions, which extended their lead to its largest point, 71-52, with 8:06 to play.
However, the Musketeers showed great resolve in the final eight minutes and made the game interesting. While switching screens and piling up stops on the defensive end, they started working the ball into the post on offense.
Isaiah Philmore became Xavier's go-to player for points in the final minutes, as the Musketeers outscored Creighton 26-16 in points in the paint for the half. Philmore scored 15 of his team-high 23 points in the second half.
"We just talked about how we need to stick together," Philmore said of his message to his teammates during the comeback run. "We've been sticking together all year. Like coach always says, you can't come back with a homerun. You've got to come back and get defensive stops and then turn it into offense."
A Dee Davis three with 1:23 on the clock brought the Musketeers all the way back within five, 77-72, but Creighton buried 9-of-10 free-throws to seal the win.
With the victory, the Bluejays advanced to take on Providence, which beat Seton Hall 80-74 earlier in the day, in the Big East championship game Saturday night at 8:30.
The Musketeers will now fly back to Cincinnati on Saturday and try to rest up and get healthy for an NCAA Tournament run next week.