PHILADELPHIA — A long day of waiting Sunday turned into an even longer night for Creighton’s basketball team.
Duke had a lot to do with turning the Bluejays’ final game of the season into a nightmare with a defensive effort that held Creighton to 30.2-percent shooting and its lowest scoring total since March 2010.
But the Bluejays also knew they contributed heavily to the 66-50 loss by missing shots they normally make and not doing enough to counter the second-seeded Blue Devils.
“You have to give them credit when we have a shooting night like that,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “They definitely had something to do with it, but we missed a lot of toed-up 3s that we normally make.
“They took away a lot of our first options and things that normally work for us. I think it was on us to play better, and there wasn’t quite enough there.”
The result is that the Bluejays (28-8) missed out on the Sweet 16 spot they so coveted, losing in the third round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. The Bluejays bowed out of last year’s tournament with a loss to North Carolina.
This time, another Atlantic Coast Conference blue blood inflicted the pain that the Bluejays carried back to Omaha on an early-morning charter flight.
Creighton had to wait around all day for the final game of the weekend. The Bluejays looked ready at the start, but then a barrage of missed shots, coupled with a Duke defense that turned out to be better than anticipated, started Creighton on a downward spiral that it never was able to escape at the Wells Fargo Center.
“We missed a lot of shots we normally make,” said Creighton forward Ethan Wragge, a 3-point bomber who couldn’t even get a shot up from beyond the arc against the suffocating Duke defense. “We took it at them right at the start, but they weathered the storm.
“They had some shots drop, and we couldn’t hit much.”
The Bluejays missed 17 of 19 shots from 3-point range. All-America forward Doug McDermott scored 21 points, but Duke (29-5) harassed the 6-foot-8 junior into a 4-for-16 shooting night.
No other Bluejay scored more than Gregory Echenique’s nine points. If it weren’t for Creighton’s own defensive effort, the game that drew 20,125 could have turned out even uglier than it did.
Creighton held Duke to 38.8 percent shooting. Creighton took decent care of the basketball — the Bluejays committed 10 turnovers — and hung with the Blue Devils on the boards.
But the Blue Devils never allowed Creighton to get into any type of rhythm offensively. The way the game was called also left both teams spinning their wheels to get anything going offensively. the officials whistled 46 fouls, and each team had a pair of players foul out.
“It was just so difficult to score,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That’s the best defense we’ve played all year. Our guys were really tough. It was just tough to get buckets.”
Duke made it extra difficult on the Bluejays by switching all screens, never allowing McDermott or Wragge or any of Creighton’s other shooters to get open looks.
“They were real physical with me,” McDermott said. “They were switching everything, making it frustrating. I missed a lot of shots I normally make, so that was unfortunate.
“But they did a great job finding me and not letting me get anything easy. You’ve got to give them credit.”
After Creighton scored the game’s first four points, Duke went on an 11-point run to seize the early momentum. The Bluejays battled back to take leads of 17-16, 19-18 and 21-20 before the Blue Devils closed the half with a 9-2 run to take a 29-23 lead.
The final three came when Tyler Thornton banked in a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
“We talk about how sometimes it’s as simple as the bounce of the ball,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We missed a wide-open 3 just before the half, and then they throw in a bank shot to go up by six.”
Creighton countered by scoring the first four points of the second half, and things seemed to be starting to swing the Bluejays’ way when 6-foot-10 Duke forward Mason Plumlee went to the bench with his fourth foul just 2:12 after halftime.
But the Bluejays couldn’t capitalize, and then their own foul problems started adding up. McDermott, Echenique and Gibbs all picked up their third before the first media timeout of the second half, and the Blue Devils started to steadily pad their lead.
Seth Curry buried a 3-pointer and drove for a basket on the next possession to stretch the advantage to 39-30. Amile Jefferson’s layup with 10:29 to play gave Duke its first double-digit lead at 43-32.
Creighton eventually cut its deficit to eight when McDermott made a pair of free throws with 7:03 to play. he finished the game 12 of 12 from the line.
But Curry then delivered another 3-pointer, and the Bluejays could never get closer than nine points the rest of the way.
Curry finished with 17 points, while Rasheed Sulaimon, who was averaging 11 points coming into the game, led the Blue Devils with 21.
“Rasheed was terrific,” Krzyzewski said.
Plumlee added 10 points before fouling out, seven fewer than his team-leading average. Creighton also held 6-11 senior forward Ryan Kelly to a single free throw. He had been averaging 16 points in the five games since coming back from a foot injury.
But that wasn’t enough, not with the Bluejays’ offense misfiring like it hadn’t all season. Their previous low point total this season was 57 in an early February loss at Indiana State.
“We came up short of our goal again,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said, “and that really hurts.”
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