When Doug McDermott walked off the floor at the CenturyLink Center for perhaps the last time in a Bluejays jersey Saturday afternoon, the Creighton star received a hug from his dad, fist bumps from his teammates and a loud ovation from the crowd.
Needless to say, he deserved all of it and more.
In a winner-take-all regular season finale pitting the Missouri Valley Conference's co-leaders, McDermott scored a season high 41 points to propel Creighton to a convincing 91-80 victory over Wichita State. The Bluejays avenged a previous loss to the Shockers, clinched their first Valley regular season title in 12 years and all but guaranteed they'll be one of the 68 teams who hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
If the most impressive part of McDermott's game has always been his ability to dominate a game without dominating the ball, then that was once again on display Saturday. Aided by Wichita State's unusual inattentiveness defensively, McDermott freed himself for layups or jump shots by running off a series of screens designed to give him space.
McDermott's ruthlessly efficient 15 of 18 shooting was a product of how many open looks his teammates got him with their physical screens, yet he wasn't the only torrid-shooting player in a white jersey. Creighton shot an almost unfathomable 70.2 percent from the field because some of the less well-known Bluejays also got in the act.
Ethan Wragge, Austin Chatman and Grant Gibbs sparked Creighton during the game's key stretch, combining for all their team's points during a 14-2 spurt that extended the Bluejays' second-half lead to 69-54. Wragge knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to open the run, Chatman knocked down one of his own and added a layup and Gibbs ended it with the toughest shot of all, an off-balance fallaway 3-pointer.
The scoring explosion is no huge surprise considering Creighton is one of the nation's most efficient teams for the second straight year, yet it has to be cathartic considering the way the Bluejays played much of February.
Creighton lost three straight against Indiana State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa from Feb. 6 to Feb. 13, tumbling out of first place in the Missouri Valley and out of the AP Top 25 poll. By the time the Bluejays added a loss at Saint Mary's last Saturday, their spot in the NCAA tournament, almost unbelievably, wasn't entirely secure.
If Creighton has answered that with two straight wins, then Wichita State now faces some of the same questions. The Shockers could have clinched a share of the Valley title by just beating Evansville earlier this week, but they lost that game by three, lost again in Omaha and now enter Arch Madness maybe needing one win to feel absolutely certain about their NCAA tournament prospects.
Of course, it's an accomplishment that Wichita State is even in the NCAA tournament hunt after it lost its five leading scorers from last year's Valley-winning club. And the Shockers will definitely be a threat to win Arch Madness outright, though they'll have to do a far better job defensively on McDermott if they see Creighton again.
It remains to be seen whether Bluejays fans have seen the last of McDermott in Omaha or not, but they certainly voiced their opinion loudly.
As the final seconds melted off the clock, they chanted "one more year" at the all-American junior and potential NBA draft pick.
If McDermott comes back for his senior year, he's sure to have many more great games on the CenturyLink Center floor. If not, there's no better way for the Creighton star to go out than with his best-ever scoring game and an outright league championship.
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