Doug McDermott often finds himself right in the middle of a decisive run that turns a game in Creighton’s favor.
Saturday, McDermott sat and watched as his teammates started the surge that carried the No. 16 Bluejays to a hard-fought 79-66 victory over Indiana State before a sellout crowd of 17,694 at the CenturyLink Center.
Creighton trailed 44-41 when McDermott picked up his third foul with 13:44 to play. When he re-entered the game five minutes later, the Bluejays had a four-point lead. More important, big plays by Gregory Echenique and Ethan Wragge finally swung momentum the Bluejays’ way.
McDermott then chipped in six of his 25 points to finish off the 16-2 run that sent Creighton to its eighth straight victory.
“It was exciting to watch that,” McDermott said. “I knew when I picked up that third foul that Ethan would come in and do his thing.”
Wragge’s thing is to shoot the basketball, and he made a pair of 3-pointers — the second from well behind the line — that ignited the crowd. And the big-bodied Echenique carried his team through some anxious moments when McDermott went to the bench.
Echenique scored nine of his 16 points in the four-minute span that saw Creighton go from three down to four up. He had a basket and a three-point play to pull the Bluejays into a 46-46 tie.
After Indiana State took its last lead, Echenique tied it at 51 with a layup. On the Bluejays’ next possession, the 6-foot-9 center took an alley-oop pass from Grant Gibbs for a dunk that put Creighton ahead for good.
“With the way they were defending us, Coach mentioned that if it was there to go for it,” Echenique said. “Grant has good vision, saw it and we connected.”
Echenique finished the game 7 of 9 from the field. He grabbed nine rebounds and blocked four shots — two on the same possession that sparked a spurt that pulled Creighton into a 27-27 halftime tie.
“We didn’t have an (answer) for Echenique inside,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “He’s a pro — they have a couple of them on that team. He’s a load to handle, he’s terrific on the glass and he cleaned up a lot of times that we got to the basket. He was terrific.”
Lansing’s team hit town having won four of its past five games against top-flight competition. For the first two-thirds of Saturday’s game, the Sycamores appeared determined to add another win.
They controlled the tempo. They battled inside for second-chance points. And they made some clutch shots.
“Indiana State is good, in case anybody is wondering,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “That’s a disciplined basketball team, and I understand now why they came close to winning three games in Hawaii and started the league 2-0.”
The Sycamores let a six-point first-half lead slip away when Creighton scored the final six points of the half. Indiana State came out firing in the final 20 minutes, making its first four shots — including a couple of 3-pointers — in grabbing a seven-point lead.
They were still up by three when Creighton’s best player went to the bench.
“I thought we fought awfully hard,” Lansing said. “We were hanging around by the skin of our teeth, but we just didn’t do the things we needed to do at either end of the court to beat an outstanding team.
“Give Creighton all the credit in the world. They put it to us down the stretch. They’re just an awfully good team.”
One that is now 14-1 and will head into Tuesday’s home game against Drake with a 3-0 record in Missouri Valley play. The Bluejays shot 55.1 percent from the field against Indiana State, making 61.5 percent of their field-goal attempts in the final 20 minutes.
They toughened up on the boards in the second half after Indiana State continually hurt them with second-chance baskets in the first. And they finished with 22 assists on 27 baskets, with Austin Chatman getting nine and Gibbs eight.
Chatman came within a point of his season high, finishing the game with 13 points. Wragge chipped in nine, making half of his six 3-point attempts.
His two biggest makes came as Creighton took control the game.
“Teams that want to take away Doug and want to take away Greg find that we have other options,” Wragge said. “One of the biggest strengths of our team is our depth.
“We found a lineup that was clicking and we went with a little bit.”
Indiana State dropped to 9-5 and 2-1. Jake Odum and Manny Arop each had 13 points to lead the Sycamores, while Justin Gant added 12.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Indiana State is going to win a lot of games,” Greg McDermott said. “They’re going to be in a lot of games because they control tempo well and they fight you defensively. They stepped up in the second half and made shots.”
But the Sycamores couldn’t counter the inside punch of Echenique and the outside shooting of Wragge when the game was theirs for the taking.
“We just clicked and found a little momentum,” Echenique said. “We got it rolling, and sometimes it just takes that one big play to get it rolling.
“After you get that big play, you probably run a little faster and defend a little harder. We just got that boost you need to get that win.”
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