McDermott Steals the Show, But Creighton’s Defense Is the StoryPosted by dnspewak on January 12th, 2013
Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.
That white towel. That’s the universal basketball signal for “My Night is Over.” When he plopped himself on the Creighton bench with three minutes remaining in regulation on Friday night, Doug McDermott draped this white towel over his shoulders and stared blankly at his teammates on the floor of JQH Arena. His night was indeed over, and judging by the sweat stains on both sides of his jersey, it looked like he’d played pretty hard.
For all of the sweat, McDermott didn’t even set any records in his team’s 74-52 victory over Missouri State. He didn’t score a career high in points, nor did he set record marks for field goals or three-pointers made. Such a bum, that All-American. He only managed 39 points, 28 of which came in the second half. He only scored the Bluejays’ first 18 points of the second half, only made 14 consecutive field goals at one point and only outscored the entire Missouri State team by three points in the second half. Rough night, huh? “He’s making fade-away threes off one foot,” Missouri State guard Anthony Downing said. “You can’t do anything about that. God-given talent.” Sometimes, McDermott would abuse his defender off the dribble for an easy layup. Other times, he’d roll off a screen and fire a three-pointer, and other times he’d convert easy layups. “That was pretty incredible tonight,” said Greg McDermott, brimming with pride as both his head coach and father. Even when it finally looked like McDermott had missed a shot from beyond the arc, one of the Bears’ defenders collided with him and sent him to the free throw line. Missouri State coach Paul Lusk constantly switched defenders on him, and he threw everything from junk zone defenses to double teams at McDermott. Nothing worked. “We could have ran the whole arena out at him,” Lusk said. “It doesn’t matter.” Had his father not pulled him out of the game after the final television timeout, McDermott surely could have broken the career high of 44 points he set against Bradley last season. Instead, he’ll have to settle for the second-most points in career history. “I blame it on him,” he said, pointing to his dad. “That’s one of the better games I’ve ever played in my life.”
It’s hard to argue with that. McDermott finished 15-19 from the floor and even grabbed 10 boards to complete a double-double. Just another modest night for the guy who entered the game averaging 22.6 points per game, the fourth-best mark in college basketball. Sarcasm aside, McDermott has done this so many times it’s become almost commonplace. He hung 30 on Wisconsin and 29 on Arizona State out in Las Vegas this November, and his 33 points in the Missouri Valley title game against Illinois State last March set a tournament record. Similar to the likes of, say, Adam Morrison, McDermott moved from obscurity to fame a long time ago. It’s still appropriate to gawk at this sort of performance, but it’s not appropriate to dwell on it.
McDermott is a terrific basketball player, and he is a part of one of the most potent offenses in college basketball. In another vintage performance, the 13th-ranked Bluejays shot 57 percent from the floor against the Bears on Friday night. McDermott helped, sure, but Creighton’s guards once again proved their worth. Neither Austin Chatman nor Grant Gibbs scored a single point in the game, but they combined for seven assists and kept the point guard position steady. Jahenns Manigat made all three of his three-point attempts and finished with 11 points. “We were scheming from the midnight hour trying to figure out how to stop Creighton,” Lusk said. “They have so many weapons.” Even with center Gregory Echenique a non-factor, Creighton had no trouble scoring. It’ll never have trouble scoring. None of this has changed from a year ago.
What’s changed is Creighton’s defense.
Following a loss to top-seeded North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, every basketball writer in America made the same observations about the Bluejays. Offensive juggernaut, they’d say. But not defensive-minded enough to win when it matters. The statistics supported those criticisms: The Bluejays finished 219th in the nation in defensive efficiency. Greg McDermott never disagreed with the critics, telling reporters over and over again during the pre-season that his team’s improvement would hinge solely on the defensive end.
After 17 games, Creighton has made clear progress. “I think they’re more committed to guarding,” Lusk said. “There’s no doubt.” The Bluejays have ascended to 67th in the nation in efficiency. They’re 49th in opponents’ field goal percentage. In terms of individual games, this team shut down Wisconsin by holding it to 41 percent from the field, it embarrassed St. Joseph’s by forcing 17 turnovers in a 29-point victory and it held California in check on its own home floor. On Friday night, Missouri State fell into a second-half swoon and finished five for 23 from beyond the arc. Leading scorer Anthony Downing had scored 24 points in each of his past two games, but he managed only 10 tonight with Manigat draped all over him. “Downing had 26 in our place last year, and the same guy was guarding him,” Greg McDermott said. “We’ve made some good strides just because guys are a year older.” Chatman has stepped up his pressure in the backcourt, and McDermott said Echenique’s improved cardiovascular strength has helped him stay on the floor more. “The fact that Greg is in better condition allows him to control the paint more and stay out of foul trouble,” McDermott said.
It’s not perfect yet. In the lone loss of Creighton’s season, Boise State torched the Bluejays by shooting 60 percent from the field and hung 83 on them in Omaha. That loss doesn’t seem so crippling anymore in light of the Broncos’ victory this week over previously unbeaten Wyoming, but that game was a step in the opposite direction. Creighton also hasn’t faced any truly elite offensive squads yet this season and probably will not see one until the NCAA Tournament. “We’re not a finished product, but at least we’ve made some improvements,” McDermott said.
No improvement needed for his son. Missouri State’s 5-12 record aside, it’s unheard of for a player to make 14 straight field goals in a game. It’s even more impressive when you consider this was probably the most important home game the Bears will play all season. These two teams have developed a minor rivalry after playing a series of classics the past few seasons, and a victory could have actually propelled upstart Missouri State into a first-place tie (after a 2-10 start, the Bears won three of their first four MVC games). An energetic crowd helped the Bears stick around for a half. That was it. Then, McDermott happened. “Just one of those nights. I’ll have nights where I don’t score that much, but it was just one of those nights.”
Silly Doug. There’s hardly ever a night when he doesn’t score a lot of points. That’s why the Missouri State media relations staff reserved three seats in the corner of JQH Arena’s media section, seats too special for local television reporters or newspaper writers to occupy. These seats were for a different breed, clearly labeled so nobody would mistake them for another seat.
RESERVED FOR: HOUSTON ROCKETS
RESERVED FOR: SAN ANTONIO SPURS
RESERVED FOR: UTAH JAZZ
By tipoff, these three seats remained empty. Two other gentlemen in suits moved into their spots when it became apparent they wouldn’t show up. That’s too bad. The people who actually showed up to the game saw a performance for the ages. “I kind of felt like a spectator out there for a second,” Manigat said. “Like, I picked a spot on the court and just watched Doug do what Doug does.” What Doug does is special. The way his team scores is special. It is a beautiful sight, watching one Bluejay find another Bluejay find another Bluejay for open shot after open shot. “That’s what it’s like when you play with a bunch of unselfish guys,” McDermott said. It’s rare to see such a blend of shooting, athleticism, size and speed on the offensive end, but that’s the kind of team Greg McDermott has assembled at Creighton. And if the Bluejays continue to guard, maybe Doug McDermott won’t even need to score 39 points for his team to win.
Not that anybody wearing blue and white will complain if he does.