Creighton went from chumps to champs in the span of seven days.
Riding a performance by an individual and a team that coach Greg McDermott called as fine as he's had in a high-stakes situation, the Bluejays defeated Wichita State 91-79 on Saturday behind 41 points by Doug McDermott to win their first outright Missouri Valley championship since 2001.
The celebrations and smiles that came after the win were in stark contrast to the emotions displayed a week ago following a BracketBusters loss at St. Mary's. The Bluejays, who had experienced their share of down moments in February, were about as low as they had been all year. Some in their fan base were labeling this season the most disappointing in 95 years of Bluejay basketball.
“Basketball has the ability to humble you like that,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “Sometimes when you think you're on top of the world, it brings you back down. But this team still had that confidence in each other. We knew we were going to break through and start playing better.
“Sometimes it's as simple as a couple baskets going in and a couple of plays going your way.”
The ball went in Saturday at a rate unseen this season. Doug McDermott made 15 of 18 shots in hitting his season-high point total, producing end-of-game chants of “one more year” from the crowd of 18,613 at the CenturyLink Center.
The Bluejays (24-7, 13-5) shot a season-best 70.2 percent against the Valley's best defensive team. They also outrebounded the Shockers and limited their turnovers in the winner-take-all battle for the league's regular-season championship.
The teams came into the final game tied for first place, just the third time in the past 30 seasons that the Valley race came down to the last game. This was the first time Creighton had ever faced such a scenario.
The title, Creighton's eighth outright and 15th overall, punctuated a regular season that featured a 17-1 start but also four losses in eight February games, including three in a row.
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“It's hard to get to this point. It's hard to position yourself in this situation,” Greg McDermott said. “We went through some times in February, some times that a lot of teams may not have gotten through.
“To these guys' credit, they didn't allow all the things going on on the outside to affect the locker room. They never pointed fingers, and because of that, they provided themselves with an opportunity to play for a championship today. I couldn't be more proud of them.”
Nor could any father be more proud of the championship effort turned in by a son.
Doug McDermott saved his finest hour as a Bluejay for the time his team needed him most. He scored 12 points in the first 8½ minutes to get his team off to a good start. He didn't miss a shot in the first 21 minutes.
When Wichita State made a last push, trimming a 15-point deficit to six, McDermott made back-to-back 3-point shots to stretch the lead back to 11. His three-point play with 2:19 left sealed the deal, and he punctuated the win with a layup for Creighton's final points.
“Forty-one points on 18 shots. Spectacular,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “He's a great player. What's not to like about the way he plays the game? He got loose, and once he got loose, it was hard to get him back under control.”
Wichita State (24-7, 12-6) had kept McDermott in check better than any other team in the league in their previous meetings. He scored 43 points in his first four games against the Shockers. He got 25 in January in Wichita, but the Shockers won that one by three points.
Saturday's performance was three points shy of the career high he recorded last season against Bradley. But given the stakes on the line against the Shockers, there's really no comparing the two efforts.
“No doubt,” he replied when asked if this was his best game. “With what was on the line against a big rival, it just doesn't get much better than this. The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for putting together a good scouting report.”
He laughed when asked how he missed three shots.
“I don't know, man,” he said. “Those three 3s got me. I just felt really good. I was in the zone and my teammates just kept feeding me.”
The only shots McDermott missed were three second-half attempts from beyond the arc. He made all 10 of his 2-point attempts and all six of his free throws. He also grabbed a team-high six rebounds and had three assists in 32 minutes.
“From the jump, he was efficient,” Gibbs said. “We just kept trying to get him the ball. He's had a lot of performances where he's had 25 or 30, and it's been a quiet 25 or 30.
“That was an extremely loud 41. Every one of his buckets was huge. He was in a great rhythm, and that's the best performance I've seen and been a part of.”
Gibbs and Austin Chatman backed up McDermott with 12 points apiece, and they combined for 14 assists against just six turnovers. Gregory Echenique and Ethan Wragge each scored nine points while missing just one shot.
Demetric Williams led Wichita State with 18 points, while Carl Hall had 15 and Tekele Cotton 14. The Shockers, who were upset Wednesday night by Evansville to set up Saturday's showdown, shot 52.7 percent from the field, including 64 percent in the second half.
“Our effort today would have been good enough to wrap up a co-championship on Wednesday, but we didn't play this well,” Marshall said. “Today, we played a team that played better than us.”
One that sent its five seniors out on Senior Day with a championship. One that overcame adversity. One that cemented its legacy, thanks partly because its star player had a performance for the ages.
“That was an incredible performance by our team,” Greg McDermott said. “We beat a good basketball team on a day they played pretty well. Doug had an incredibly special day. I'm proud to call this group a champion. They deserve it.”
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>> Video: Highlights from Creighton-Wichita State:
>> Video: Postgame press conference including Greg McDermott, Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs: