LAS VEGAS — Creighton showcased its toughness Friday night in winning a November game that had a March feel.
Though the Bluejays were the ranked team coming into their Las Vegas Invitational matchup with Wisconsin, they needed to prove they were capable of going toe-to-toe with one of the Big Ten's bruisers.
Creighton 84, Wisconsin 74.
“I think people were thinking we were overrated, that we hadn't been tested by anybody yet,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “We wanted to come in here and show what we're about and what kind of basketball we like to play.”
The 14th-ranked Bluejays got 30 points from Doug McDermott, 17 from Wragge and 14 from Austin Chatman in picking up a win that hiked their record to 5-0 and put them into Saturday's 10 p.m. championship game against Arizona State.
The Sun Devils had a surprisingly easy time with Arkansas, 83-68, in Friday's other semifinal at the Orleans Arena. Carrick Felix scored 24 points and Arizona State shot 56 percent from the field against the Razorbacks to improve to 4-0.
“Arizona State is a good basketball team,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “They're playing different than they did last year, and we'll be defending a totally different kind of team tomorrow night. And it's going to be on short prep, but that's what makes this fun.”
Friday's game wasn't much fun for any player shy about contact. The physical contest fit Wisconsin's style, but it was Creighton that never backed up when the going got rough.
“We don't get many chances to play a Big Ten team during the regular year,” Doug McDermott said. “It's important for us to win these games.”
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Doing it with a national audience watching doesn't hurt, either.
“It's like my dad said in the locker room, it doesn't happen much that those guys give up 84 points,” he said. “It says a lot about our team. We like to run it in transition, and we did a good job of executing.”
McDermott scored four points and Wragge buried a pair of 3-pointers in the game's decisive run. The Bluejays, who trailed by one point at halftime, methodically built a seven-point advantage midway through the second half.
Jared Berggren, the Badgers' bullish inside center, singlehandedly got his team back in the game. He scored on a drive, added a three-point play after getting fouled while dunking after a rebound, and then tied the game with two free throws with 10:03 to play.
Wragge made a 3-pointer but Berggren grabbed a rebound and fed George Marshall for a tying 3-pointer. After Creighton missed a shot, Berggren made two free throws for a 60-58 lead.
“We started defending a little bit better, and we scored on nine possessions in a row,” Greg McDermott said. “We like to think our pace will wear into people the last seven to 10 minutes of a game. We got a few easy postups that probably don't come as easy in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“We let Doug go to work. We gave it to him and kind of got out of his way.”
Wragge started the decisive 20-6 run with a 3-pointer from the wing. Creighton got the ball inside to McDermott on its next two possessions. He had two free throws on the first, then hit a jumper to make it 65-62.
Wragge struck again, draining his fourth 3-pointer of the game with 5:57 to play. Josh Jones and Chatman chipped in with driving baskets, and Creighton got four free throws from Grant Gibbs and two more from Jones to hike its advantage to 78-66 with 1:50 remaining.
“After they took the lead, Coach called a timeout and just told us to stick to what we know,” Chatman said. “He said stick to our game plan, get out and run and knock down big shots.”
Creighton shot 61.9 percent in the second half after the defense-minded Badgers limited the Bluejays to 37.8 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes.
Creighton also finished with a 40-34 edge in rebounding, a 30-24 advantage in points in the paint and a 15-13 edge in second-chance points.
“I thought we matched the toughness of a team that is built on toughness,” Greg McDermott said. “That's what their program stands for, and we knew that we'd at least have to be even with them. I thought we were tonight.”
In his seventh game of 30 or more points in his career, Doug McDermott made 10 of 23 shots from the field and 9 of 10 from the foul line. He also had eight rebounds in 36 minutes.
“He made our guys look like they haven't played before,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “He's like those old-time players you used to see in the Y's and the Boys' Clubs.
“He works, he's smart, he's tough but I think we knew that before the game. We had his shooting percentage down in the first half but then he just went to work.”
Ryan's teams pride themselves on defense but Creighton became the first to hang 80-plus points on the Badgers in more than two seasons.
Berggren led Wisconsin with 27 points, and the 3-2 Badgers got 15 from Ryan Evans. But they had no answers when Creighton went on its late run. They just weren't tough enough to keep the Bluejays from taking control of a game that had 18 lead changes and 10 ties.
“I remember a couple of years ago when people were questioning our mental and physical toughness,” Wragge said. “I think we've come a long way from there, and that we're not going to back down from anyone.”
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