SAN ANTONIO — Doug McDermott scored in bunches and Ethan Wragge delivered the critical 3-pointers. Together they kept Creighton marching on, right back where they’d promised they’d be.
McDermott scored 30 points and Wragge made three huge momentum-changing shots in the second half, sending No. 3 seed Creighton to a tough 76-66 win over No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday in the West Regional.
And with the win, the Bluejays advance to the third round the NCAA tournament, the very spot they’ve been forced out the last two years.
“It feels great to be back,” McDermott said. “This is what I came back for.”
It certainly didn’t come easy.
McDermott had a double-double by halftime but went scoreless for nearly 14 minutes of the second half, leaving it to Wragge’s long shots to bail out the Bluejays from a potential upset by Ragin’ Cajuns, who attacked Creighton (27-7) with fearless defense and rebounding.
Sun Belt tournament champion Louisiana-Lafayette (23-12) led 50-48 before Wragge struck from long range to spark Creighton’s push that finally put it away.
“We got away with one today,” McDermott said. “We have a veteran team and showed that down the stretch.”
The win also means the Creighton family stays together on the court for a few more days at least. McDermott opted against going to the NBA after last season to play one more year with his father, Creighton coach Greg McDermott.
Everything is paying off so far. Doug’s senior season has been nothing short of individually spectacular as the nation’s leading scorer is a favorite for just about every national player of the year award. He’s also now scored at least 30 points in four of Creighton’s last five games.
The question is, just how far can he carry the Bluejays through the next few weeks before his college career is finally over?
Louisiana-Lafayette hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2000 and certainly weren’t intimidated by McDermott. Junior guard Elfrid Payton scored 24 points and took the lead in defending him, a tenacious effort that stifled Creighton’s star for much of the second half.
“Coming into the game we felt like it was in reach. From the opening tip we got on a good run, took the lead,” Payton said. “I think I did a good job keeping of him uncomfortable.”
McDermott finally put the dagger in the game with a long 3-pointer with 2:03 to play that put Creighton ahead 71-64. As soon as the final buzzer sounded, he clapped his hands, exhaled and high-fived Wragge under the basket.
“A lot of crazy things have happened in this tournament,” Greg McDermott said. “You have to survive and advance.”
Creighton looked tight, perhaps because of the pressure to push (or ride) McDermott as far as they can go. The Bluejays, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, missed their first six attempts from long range and struggled to get the ball to McDermott on some of his quick cuts to the basket.
McDermott did whatever he could, slipping into seams for layups and gathering 10 first half rebounds, to keep the Bluejays going. He scored nine in a row in one burst but just as often was left wanting the ball when teammates couldn’t find him with the quick pass when he was open.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s Shawn Long blocked a McDermott shot, but sent the ball so fall it fell right to Creighton guard Austin Chatman for a 3-pointer. The Ragin’ Cajuns answered with Payton’s 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut Creighton’s lead to 39-33 at halftime.
The block was the statement that Louisiana-Lafayette had no plans to step aside.
The Ragin’ Cajuns stayed aggressive and took their first lead of the second half at 48-46 when 6-foot-6, 325-pound Center J.J. Davenport posted up before hitting a soft fall away jumper with just under 13 minutes to play.
Wragge struggled to find his stroke until popping three in a row. His last one put Creighton up by six before Chatman converted a 3-point play and McDermott closed it out.
“We lost Wragge,” Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said. “That’s the guy we were concerned about.”