Expectations were high from the start this season in Omaha and Creighton took a big step toward meeting them Sunday by winning its second straight Missouri Valley Conference tournament title.
But Wichita State made the Bluejays earn it.
The Shockers fought back from a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes before falling 68-65. Malcolm Armstead drilled a long 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds remaining to cut the lead to one. The shot capped a 15-3 run. But following a Creighton timeout, Jahenns Manigat drove around and through the Shockers to score a layup and stretch the lead back to three.
That forced Armstead to take an off-balance 3-pointer to tie with All-American forward Doug McDermott's hand in his face. The ball bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
It is the 12th time Creighton has won the Valley championship and it could be the last. Speculation has grown throughout this season that it could switch conferences before next season, possibly joining a reconstituted Big East.
Manigat led the Bluejays with 16 points, compensating for an off day by McDermott, who is always a focal point for opponents. McDermott had scored 41 points in the previous meeting with the Shockers just eight days ago. McDermott scored 14 Sunday.
It wasn't a smooth ride to the championship. At times in late January and early February, there were questions about the Bluejays' toughness after they lost three straight at one point and four of five on the road in conference play. But they overcame those sour stretches to win the regular season and tournament titles, leaving no doubt they're best team in the Valley.
Now, can the Bluejays make a run in March Madness or has all of this work led to another season in which they fall short of the Sweet 16?
Creighton has never been the Final Four and hasn't advanced to the Sweet 16 in 10 tournament appearances in the modern era. It has the talent and experience to win more than one game this season. The Bluejays won the Valley despite McDermott not playing his best Sunday. That's an encouraging sign and shows they aren't totally reliant on their star to win games against good opponents.
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