Valley 3-point contest goes to Creighton

James Dent, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NORMAL, Ill. -- Creighton leading man Doug McDermott didn't deliver his typical All-America performance, but the show went on for the No. 16 Bluejays.
Reserve forward Ethan Wragge led all scorers with 18 points, Grant Gibbs delivered a solid all-around game and the Bluejays made a critical defensive stop in the last 30 seconds for a 79-72 victory at Illinois State in a rematch of last year's Missouri Valley Conference championship game.
"With the guys that we have on the floor, if you take away something, you're going to have to give up something," Greg McDermott said.
In a contest where each team sank 13 3-pointers, Creighton (13-1, 2-0) denied the Redbirds (9-5, 0-2) revenge for an 83-79 overtime defeat last March in St. Louis. The Bluejays did so despite getting only 15 points from McDermott, who averages 23.5.
But the son of coach Greg McDermott was still heard from in key junctures. Doug McDermott's alley-oop layup off Austin Chatman's feed gave Creighton a 73-68 edge with 1:27 remaining, and McDermott iced it with two foul shots with 7.9 seconds remaining.
Gibbs stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Gregory Echenique overcame a case of strep throat to contribute 12 points and five rebounds, as well as his normally tough interior defense.
Tyler Brown and Bryant Allen each scored 15 points to pace Illinois State, but it came up dry on the game's most important possession. After forcing a turnover in the last minute, the Redbirds had a shot to tie with a 3, but couldn't find a clean look and settled for a Jackie Carmichael airball from the corner.
First-year Illinois State coach Dan Muller admitted he should have called a timeout after the play's first option failed and left his team floundering around the 3-point arc, unable to make headway against perfect defensive rotations.
"It was an open shot, but that's not really the shot we wanted," Muller said.
"I was wondering where those rotations were most of the game," McDermott joked.
It was ironic that a missed 3 decided the game, because both teams made it the focal point of their offense for most of the night.
After Brown sandwiched Doug McDermott's 3 with two of his own to start the game, Creighton hit Illinois State with a 17-2 run, fueled mostly by Gibbs and the sweet-shooting Wragge.
Gibbs scored seven straight points with a pair of driving layups and a 3, while Wragge drilled three straight 3s in a span of 1 minute, 51 seconds. That forced Muller to burn a timeout with his team trailing 20-8 at the 13:07 mark.
Creighton still led 42-30 with 2:15 remaining in the half after Wragge drained a 25-footer from the top of the key, his fifth 3 of the half. But Illinois State ignited the near-sellout crowd of 8,813 by scoring the first half's last nine points, including a five-point trip to end the half.
Following Carmichael's stickback, the Redbirds chased down his missed free throw and played for the final shot. Reserve Nick Zeisloft cashed it in with a 3 from the right wing -- the 17th of the half between the teams.
The lead was never higher than six points in a grinding second half. Allen's fade-away 3-pointer with 9:21 remaining gave Illinois State a 63-61 edge and Jon Ekey's runner at the 7:17 mark lifted the Redbirds into a 65-64 advantage.
But Illinois State could never gain a two-possession lead as the Bluejays made the key plays in their closest victory of the season.
"We didn't play particularly well," Wragge said, "so to come out of here with a victory says something. A lot of teams are going to come in here during conference play and lose."
Creighton's defense, a weakness last season, flashed its improvement down the stretch as the Redbirds made just 4 of their last 15 shots. After ranking 222nd in defensive efficiency in 2011-12, the Bluejays are 44th this year.
Meanwhile, Illinois State failed to post what would have been its first win against a ranked foe in Redbird Arena's 25-year history.
"Our confidence isn't shaken," Carmichael said. "Our focus is the next game."
Notes: Illinois State entered Wednesday's game as the only team in the country to have three different players score 30 points in a game this season -- Carmichael, Brown and Allen ... Carmichael blocked the 161st shot of his career, a new school record ... The Bluejays' 12 double-digit wins are tied for tops in Division I with Pittsburgh.

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