SAN ANTONIO – Creighton offered just enough support and hit just enough shots to complement All-American Doug McDermott, turning back feisty Louisiana-Lafayette 76-66 Friday in the second West regional game before an announced crowd of 12,663 at the AT&T Center.
Fourteenth-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette was the smaller and quicker team and gave third-seeded Creighton fits for a while. Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin made the interesting move of putting his best player, 6-3 junior guard Elfrid Payton, on the 6-8 McDermott. Payton used his speed and quickness to face-guard McDermott and occasionally give him trouble.
"I think I did a good job keeping him uncomfortable," Payton said. "To his credit, he made some plays down the stretch.
That's why McDermott is a Player of the Year candidate. He hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:06 remaining to put the Bluejays up 71-64 and essentially ice the game.
"You know, they were making it tough on me for a good 10 minutes or 12 minutes where it's really hard to get any looks," McDermott said. "So we ran that play [for the crucial 3-pointer], and Ethan [Wragge] set a great screen to get my guy. We make that play all the time."
McDermott added a layup for good measure to push the lead to 73-64 with 1:14 left.
He finished with 30 points on 13-of-23 shooting and had 12 rebounds. The rest of McDermott's teammates combined to hit 15 shots.
"The way they guarded us they really focused on McDermott so the other guys had a lot of opportunities for open shots," Creighton senior Grant Gibbs said. "But we might have been a little too focused on trying to get him the ball. But later we spread the floor out and we were able to get some open shots from other guys."
The two teammates who were perhaps most crucial for Creighton were Wragge and guard Austin Chatman. Wragge hit three second-half 3-pointers, and Chatman scored seven points in the final 4:38 that included a three-point play and a 3-pointer.
"He was so good; not just making a few shots, but he got into the teeth of that defense," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said of Chatman. "He made some plays for himself. He made some plays for his teammates. We ask him to do so much. To play fast and to run in transition, you have to have somebody that steers that ship, and Austin does that."
Payton finished with 24 points and eight rebounds, but his biggest contribution may have been helping to hold Doug McDermott scoreless for an almost 14-minute span in the second half.
"He's their best player," Greg McDermott said of Payton. "He's their best athlete. He was really good when he was on Doug, so I'm not surprised. I don't think he expended any more energy than he usually does, because the kid plays his tail off every game that I've watched.
"I don't think that watching Payton on film does him justice until you play him in person. He's got an unbelievable first step, plays with a great pace. I thought he did a good job of controlling the tempo of the game."
For the third straight year, the Bluejays won an NCAA tournament game but haven't yet won a second one in that span. Creighton's next challenge: facing a tall and talented Baylor squad on Sunday.
"They are probably going to be the most athletic front we have faced all year," Creighton center Will Artino said. "They are going to come with a zone and try to slow the game down. They were eighth in the nation at one point. To get that high in the rankings who have to be extremely good."
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