March 15, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
NEW YORK - Not even the dreaded Sports Illustrated cover curse can derail Doug McDermott - as much as Xavier hoped it would.
But the Musketeers had to understand McDermott, who is in the process of putting the finishing touches on one of college basketball's most storied careers, still has some a couple of things he needs to check off his wish list.
Sure, he's already nailed down the BIG EAST Player of the Year award, has joined college basketball's very exclusive 3,000-point club, logged a pair of Missouri Valley Conference crowns in his life before the BIG EAST and is the latest cover boy for that national sports publication.
But there's still that business of winning a BIG EAST tournament title in his first - and only - trip to the BIG EAST tournament and Friday night he was again a man on a mission.
McDermott dropped in a game-high 32 points, sinking 10 shots from the floor and all 10 of his free throws to run his two-game BIG EAST tournament total to 67 points, and fellow senior Ethan Wragge knocked down five 3-pointers to finish with 17 points as Creighton moved one step closer to a BIG EAST tournament title with an 86-78 victory over Xavier.
Creighton (26-6), which bagged 11 3-balls in the victory, will now face Providence (22-11) for the BIG EAST Tournament hardware in Saturday night's championship game. Old school Providence vs. new kid on the block Creighton.
"We're thrilled," said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. "In less than 24 hours we're playing for a BIG EAST championship. When Ethan and Doug made the decision to come to Creighton, when I made the decision to come to Creighton for that matter, none of us ever dreamed that would be a possibility. So to be on the stage that we're going to be on is a fitting way for an incredible senior class to end their regular season careers - to play for a BIG EAST title."
Creighton, which split the regular-season series with Xavier, seemed to have things well in hand after a layup by freshman Zach Hanson that gave the Bluejays a commanding 71-52 lead with 8:05 to play.
Or so it seemed.
But instead of mailing in the final minutes and calling it a tournament, Xavier picked itself off the mat and staged a spirited comeback that made for some very anxious moments for the team from Omaha.
A 10-0 run by the Musketeers capped by an Erik Stenger free throw pulled the Musketeers within 71-62 with 5:19 left. Then when Creighton ended its almost four-minute scoring drought with a single free throw from Austin Chatman (11 points) with 4:51 to play, Xavier staged another run fueled by Isaiah Philmore (23 points) and Semaj Christon (18 points) and pulled within 77-72 after a long three-pointer from Dee Davis. Suddenly the boisterous Creighton fan section was silent and it was time to reach for the Maalox.
But order was finally restored for the Bluejays at the free throw line when the quartet of Grant Gibbs, Jahenns Manigat, McDermott and Chatman sank 9 of 10 free throws in the final 1:16 to hold off the Musketeers.
"Doug McDermott is the best player in the country," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "And when Wragge shoots the ball like he does from 3 at the 5 position, they're one of a kind. They're very, very difficult. Our hats are off to them. They're going to be a tough out not only (Saturday) but the rest of the way."
Now the Bluejays' vaunted senior class - McDermott, Wragge, Manigat and Gibbs - will take to the Garden floor Saturday night for a shot at fulfilling a dream they never imagined would happen.
"It's what we all dream for," said Doug McDermott, who has scored 92 points in his three games at the Garden this season, including a regular-season matchup with St. John's on Feb. 9. "It's pretty crazy that we're already here and we're playing a good Providence team. It's going to be a special feeling when we walk out there (Saturday night)."
"It's just an unreal feeling," Wragge said. "Five years ago I was playing just in the Missouri Valley and now (Saturday) we'll be playing for one of the most historic college tournaments of all-time.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling, unbelievable ride, and we're excited for it."