Passing Larry Bird on the all-time scoring chart is one thing, but what Doug McDermott really cherished about Sunday was that his Creighton team moved ahead of Villanova in the Big East standings.
The 18th-ranked Bluejays combined another virtuoso performance by McDermott with big-time production from the bench to produce a 101-80 victory that left the sixth-ranked Wildcats bewildered.
They gave up 21 3-pointers Jan. 20 in losing 96-68 to Creighton on their home court. Sunday, the Bluejays hit some big 3s when they needed them but really excelled at a pedal-to-the-metal aggressiveness in driving the ball right at the Wildcats, with layups accounting for 18 of their 34 baskets.
“I sound like a broken record, but I love their team and I love how they play,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve struggled with them two times. They’re a tough matchup for us.
“Our style of play and their style of play leads to these kind of games. We have to find an answer, if we play them again.”
That could come next month in the Big East tournament, but Creighton’s focus in the remaining 20 days of the regular season will be to do what is necessary to walk away from their first season in the conference with a championship.
The Bluejays took a big step toward that goal in posting their first win over a ranked team at home since 1973. The victory, in front of a raucous turnout of 18,797 at CenturyLink Center, improved Creighton to 21-4 and 11-2 in the Big East.
Villanova, losing for the first time in six games, dropped a half-game behind Creighton in the standings at 10-2 while slipping to 22-3. One of the Wildcats’ losses is to No. 1 Syracuse, with the other two coming to the Bluejays.
McDermott tied his season-high with 39 points that came on a dazzling array of shots. He made four of Creighton’s nine 3-pointers but those were the easy ones. His other nine field goals came in bang-around territory on a combination of step-back jumpers, snaking drives to the lane and a fast-break dunk that almost raised the roof early in the second half.
“They guarded me very similar to the way they did at their place,” said McDermott, who had 23 points in the first game against the Wildcats. “They did switch ball screens but I tried to find the mismatches and get position in the post.
“I was feeling it from the 3-point line, and it was an overall good night. It was just an overall good night for us.”
McDermott needed a little more than three minutes to make his next move up the NCAA’s all-time scoring chart. He scored Creighton’s first 11 points, and his ninth came on a free throw to complete a three-point play with 16:56 left in the first half. That moved him past Otis Birdsong (2,832 points) and into 14th place.
He passed Bird, the former Indiana State great, with 13:22 left when he knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner. Bird had stood 13th with 2,850 points in his three seasons with the Sycamores, which McDermott was quick to point out when asked about his latest achievement.
“He was one of my idols,” McDermott said. “I told someone after the game, though, imagine if he would have had a 3-point line and he stayed four years. He’d be way ahead of me, but it’s really cool to be in that category with some of those guys.
“I play with some unbelievable guys that find me in good spots, and they deserve as much credit as I do.”
McDermott never saw Bird play, as he was born the winter after “Larry Legend” retired from the NBA in 1992. McDermott’s father did catch Bird’s act, and Greg McDermott said it’s unbelievable to hear his son’s name mentioned in the same breath as Bird’s.
“This has been pretty cool for our family, to watch him continue to move up this ladder and doing it the way he’s doing it,” Greg McDermott said. “It would be hard for any father that grew up in that era to believe that their son is mentioned in the same sentence with one of the best players of all time.
“What I’m most proud of, he just continues to work. He doesn’t get satisfied, he doesn’t rest on his laurels, he just stays after the grind. It would have been easy when he made the decision to come back to have a level of satisfaction with his own individual play. He is just so driven to help this team win that he continues to stick with it.”
As good as Doug McDermott was Sunday, Creighton might have found itself in trouble had it not been for the contributions of a bunch of guys who probably will never hear their names mentioned with Larry Bird’s.
Creighton’s reserves outscored Villanova’s bench players 39-24. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Zierden notched a career high with 13 points. Devin Brooks showed flashes of getting back to where he was before an illness forced him to miss the Feb. 7 DePaul game.
Brooks finished with 12 points, while Avery Dingman had six points, six rebounds and two assists and Will Artino chipped in a couple of baskets and rebounds.
“I think this is the best collectively that they’ve all played,” said Creighton guard Grant Gibbs, referring to the reserves. “They were the difference in the game.”
Despite McDermott’s hot start — he scored 18 of his team’s first 31 points in staking the Bluejays to a 31-24 lead — Creighton found itself in a tenuous position when Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat each picked up their second fouls within 10 seconds midway through the first half.
They watched the rest of the half from the bench, and saw Zierden, Brooks and Artino get points in a 15-3 run that turned a 31-28 lead into a 46-31 advantage. After James Bell stopped the spurt with a 3-pointer, Dingman buried a shot from beyond the arc as Creighton headed to halftime with a 50-37 lead.
“We scored on 11 of our 13 possessions to end the half without those guys (Manigat, Gibbs) on the floor,” Greg McDermott said. “Defensively, the backups were sound, offensively they were making plays that fit their games. They played to their strengths.”
Villanova had a chance to make a run early in the second half when Creighton got one basket out of its first five possessions. But the Wildcats couldn’t capitalize, and a 3-pointer by Gibbs, McDermott’s dunk and another by Gibbs put Creighton ahead 58-41 with 14:40 to play.
The Wildcats, who shot 46 percent compared to Creighton’s 64.2, never got closer than 14 points after that.
“Doug was incredible but our bench was huge in this game,” Greg McDermott said. “It was a three- or four-point game when Grant and Jahenns got in foul trouble. And we stretched that to 13 or 14 in a critical part of the game.
“For us to be able to do what we did today was a big step for us.”
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Video: Creighton-Villanova game highlights:
Video: Greg McDermott's postgame press conference:
Video: Doug McDermott discusses passing Larry Bird:
Video: Villanova coach Jay Wright on Creighton, Doug McDermott: