Creighton’s time in Anaheim started off like a fairy tale but ended much darker, as the Bluejays managed a fourth-place finish in the Wooden Legacy.
Coach McDermott’s team looked phenomenal in the event’s premier first-round matchup, a contest with Arizona State. The Sun Devil’s Jermaine Marshall hit a 3-pointer to open the scoring, but after that, it was all Bluejays. Creighton took a 16-7 lead behind eight early points from Doug McDermott. The two-time All-American doubled his early production the rest of the way for 16 first-half points, as the Bluejays took a 45-31 lead to the break. Junior-college transfer Devin Brooks added 13 points in the opening 20 minutes.
The second half brought another steady dose of Brooks and McDermott. McDermott scored 11 points after the break, giving him 27, while Brooks added 10 more for 23 points. Brooks made all four of his tries from behind the arc, and McDermott shot 10-10 from the free throw line. According to both McDermotts, the Bluejays played a nearly flawless game, winning 88-60. The Bluejays’ held Arizona State’s star, Jahii Carson, to 15 points on the night, which led Herb Sendek’s squad.
In the semifinals, McDermott and the Jays got off to another blazing start versus San Diego State. After Jahenns Manigat hit a triple to open the scoring, McDermott scored the next 16 for Creighton, as the 20th ranked Jays raced out to a 19-7 lead. The Aztecs did not retreat, however, as Steve Fisher’s squad held McDermott scoreless the rest of the half. As a result, SDSU turned their double-digit deficit into a 40-30 lead behind Xavier Thames, who scored 13 points in the opening 20 minutes.
Thames and company would stretch the lead to 19 in the opening minutes of the second half before the Bluejays went on the offensive again. McDermott and Ethan Wragge shot the Jays back into the game. Wragge, after missing three attempts from deep in the first half, made five of seven from three in the second half, and McDermott hit both of his tries in the final 20.
Austin Chatman’s layup with 27 seconds left cut the Aztec lead to three. Thames would be called for a foul on SDSU’s next possession. With the Bluejays inbounding the ball with a chance to tie the game, they went to McDermott inside. What would have been McDermott’s 32nd point rattled out and into the hands of Grant Gibbs. Gibbs went up and drew contact but was not rewarded with a whistle. San Diego took the ball and made enough free throws late to hold on for an 86-80 win over CU.
With the championship out of reach, McDermott’s squad was forced to settle for a chance at third place. George Washington, however, had other plans on Sunday evening. Mike Lonergan’s squad came out and turned up the defensive intensity from the opening whistle and frustrated the Jays for most of the next 40 minutes of basketball.
McDermott missed two shots and turned the ball over in the early going, and the Colonials capitalized on the slow start, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. CU recovered to tie the game at five but never lead in the opening period. G.W. held McDermott to 2-7 shooting early, and the Bluejays made just 3-12 tries from deep before half. The A-10 squad was helped to their 32-24 lead behind 4-7 shooting from three-point land. Kevin Larson led the G.W. attack inside scoring eight points in the first half, while Isaiah Armwood controlled things defensively, with a pair of early blocks.
Creighton’s out-of-character performance continued into the second half. McDermott missed all five of his attempts from the field after the break, finishing with just seven points. Instead of smoothly operating the prolific Jays offense, Grant Gibbs had two of his unusual four turnovers in the second half. The Marion, Iowa native also showed his legs still had some juice after six years of college ball, ending a pair of drives with dunks. Gibbs’s flushes and another incredible shooting performance from Wragge, he made three triples and a long two for 11 second half points, allowed CU creep back into the game. Two of the “Wragge Bombs” gave CU brief leads with less than 10 minutes to play, and a Gibbs slam put the Jays up three with 2:54 to play.
A pair of buckets from Larsen allowed G.W. to retake the lead with 65 seconds to play. Grant Gibbs missed a jump shot with a little more than 20 ticks left, but Chatman came down with the rebound. The second-year starter, however, turned it over to Maurice Cheek. Coach McDermott’s squad then watched an underdog make enough late free throws to hold on for the second consecutive game.
Creighton will have a chance to change the ending to the story of their time in California with a contest at Long Beach State scheduled for Tuesday night.