St. John's was close enough to taste the kind of implausible upset that could spark the season. The Red Storm went into half time having bothered the non-Doug McDermott players enough that the Johnnies were only four points down in Omaha. And late in the second half, the Red Storm fought to two ties.
With 11 seconds left, and the game tied at 60 after a pair of Rysheed Jordan made free throws, the Bluejays brought the ball up, reversed the ball and found Doug McDermott. McDermott was to be covered by Chris Obekpa, but the long shot blocking center was late to get over a screen.
All-Americans grab the big moments. McDermott's three went up and came down with a soft swish with 2 seconds left in the game. The shot game McDermott a season-high 39 points on the night - and gave the Creighton Bluejays the win.
"They were really long and athletic, made it hard at times. We gutted it out, found a way to win," Doug McDermott said, "that's what it's all about in conference play."
St. John's (12-9, 2-6 Big East) fell 63-60, breaking the three-game winning streak. The Johnnies are back in action this Saturday against Marquette in Madison Square Garden as part of a Super Saturday doubleheader in the day before the Superbowl in nearby New Jersey.
Creighton improves to 18-3 on the season, 8-1 in the Big East. They next play DePaul in Omaha on Friday, Feb 7.
Creighton was favored by 12, they are more basketball-talented and the players trust their system on offense.
Still, the Red Storm had their chances, and showed a surprising defensive resilience in mounting a comeback. The Johnnies displayed quick hands all throughout the game, holding the Bluejays far below their usual efficiency in the game. The Bluejays scored 63 points on 66 possessions (.95 points per possession), turning the ball over 17 times (26% of their possessions).
The Red Storm had a plan to let McDermott only draw attention from one player, while the rest of the team made scoring hard on the rest of the Bluejays. It was working - the Johnnies held the rest of the Creighton players under three points for the half, and made McDermott show his whole arsenal of shots, post moves, pick and pop plays and drives to get his 20 first-half points.
But Ethan Wragge - who the Red Storm made a concerted effort to stifle, being a very deadly scorer but more smart than quick, i.e., quite defensible - got free and quickly uncorked a shot, arcing and true, before JaKarr Sampson could recover on defense.
After Wragge's shot went in, the Johnnies responded rushed plays - a JaKarr Sampson mid-range jumper with five seconds gone off of their shot clock with two Creighton defenders adjusting on defense. It was an aggressive play, but aggressive in a way that Creighton would certainly appreciate on defense. Chris Obekpa, missing the offensive rebound, fouled Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat out of frustration.
It was a microcosm of the night, where the Johnnies' very energetic and effective defensive effort was maligned by mental errors, occasional selfish plays - the little things.
The plan started to crack before that shot, with a dead, wintry cold start to the second half.
The Red Storm fell down as much as 18 points during a 19-5 run from Creighton, losing the cohesion that kept them close in the first half. Late spurts were not enough, despite the excitement of a chance to win; the hold dug was too far, and the team's inability to string together offensive sets in the half court also hurt.
Creighton committed a season-high 17 turnovers, five in the last 12 minutes that the Red Storm capitalized on with five layups and dunks. McDermott's 39 points came with six rebounds as well. Avery Dingman had nine rebounds (three on the offensive end), but otherwise the show was McDermott's. Austin Chatman added seven points and Will Artino chipped in six.
St. John's shared the scoring, with D`Angelo Harrison leading the squad with 15, Chris Obekpa scoring a career-high 11 points, Rysheed Jordan also adding 11, and JaKarr Sampson putting in 10.
The loss doesn't change the Red Storm's thin postseason hopes. But will the effort shown in this game carry through to the rest of the season? Are the Johnnies once again a stout defensive team that can hold the other team down long enough to squeeze out a win? Is this the St. John's team people expected coming into the season?
Or are the game miscues, occasional lack of communication (or negative communication) on the court and poor shot selection more indicative of the course of the season?
Fans caught a taste of SOMETHING tonight, but going into February, it's hard to know if it's sour or sweet.