Doug McDermott drove the lane and beat the buzzer with an emphatic one-handed dunk.
It was a meaningless basket to close Wednesday's loss at Northern Iowa. It was an expression of frustration to close a very bad month.
Creighton started this dream season 17-1. But since Jan. 19, it has lost five games, including four nail-biters: Wichita State, Drake, Illinois State and Northern Iowa. At crunch time, McDermott was nowhere to be found.
Look at the final five minutes. Excluding his last-second dunk, this is McDermott's cumulative stat line for those four games: 3 points, 1 of 4 from the floor, 1 of 2 from the line, two turnovers.
It's a stunning lack of production for college basketball's second-leading scorer. It illustrates an alarming lack of direction for an offense that once epitomized purpose and cohesion.
At Wichita, McDermott was aggressive down the stretch (though he didn't attempt a shot in the final minute).
The other three games, however, McDermott had a total of four touches on Creighton's side of half court. That's 15 minutes of game action. That's 24 possessions, some of which produced multiple Creighton shots.
>> One against Drake. He caught the ball on the left block with 4:10 left, surveyed the defense and passed cross-court to Austin Chatman for an open 3. Chatman missed.
>> Two against Illinois State. He missed a corner 3-pointer with 4:22 left and, three minutes later, executed a quick ball reversal from the top of the key.
>> One against Northern Iowa. At the three-minute mark, he made a strong move to his right and missed a contested layup.
Creighton's offense has crumbled under the five-minute mark. In their four tight losses, the Jays were 6 for 29 from the field. Grant Gibbs was 4 for 10. McDermott was 2 for 5. The rest of the team was 0 for 14.
But Chatman (0 for 4), Jahenns Manigat (0 for 3) and Ethan Wragge (0 for 6) aren't All-Americans. Their omission from the scoring column isn't as glaring as McDermott's.
Last year, McDermott was a big reason the Jays were 8-1 in games decided by six points or less. He didn't consistently dominate in the clutch, but he was usually front and center.
Against Illinois State in the Missouri Valley tournament final, he had 10 points during the final five minutes and overtime. Against Evansville, a game that also went to overtime, he had nine. He had six versus Long Beach State. Even if he wasn't hitting game-winning shots, at least he was touching the ball.
Over the past month, he barely resembles the same player at crunch time. Prior to his meaningless dunk, McDermott had one touch in the last 11 possessions at Northern Iowa. Here's the breakdown:
1: Leading 48-45, Creighton runs a set to isolate Gregory Echenique on the block. Manigat finds him and the big man draws contact. He hits the second free throw.
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2: On this trip, every Bluejay except McDermott gets a touch. The ball goes low to Echenique again. UNI pokes it free, Echenique picks it up on the right wing and hits a cutting Gibbs in the lane. Gibbs fakes a pass to the wing, then tries to score. The official calls him for traveling.
3: Out of a timeout, Gibbs and Echenique run a high pick and roll. Gibbs picks up the dribble, UNI rips it away and Anthony James beats Gibbs and Chatman to the loose ball near midcourt, setting up the Panthers' go-ahead 3.
4: The first pass goes to McDermott at the elbow. He makes a strong move to his right but misses off glass. But he drew enough defenders to give Echenique a rebounding edge on the weak side. The big man gets hammered, but misses both free throws.
5: Down 52-49, Chatman runs down a defensive rebound, pushes up the floor and gets into the lane. But he's out of control and Jake Koch blocks his shot near the rim.
6: Creighton makes a feeble attempt to find Doug out of a timeout, but the ball ends up with Chatman on the right wing. He goes pick and roll with Echenique and pulls up for an elbow jumper. He draws a foul and hits the second free throw, ending a 9-0 UNI run.
7: Off a defensive rebound, McDermott tries to screen a Panther for Gibbs at the top of the key. UNI is called for pushing him. McDermott hits only the first free throw.
8: The first pass goes to Echenique in the paint. His shot is blocked. Chatman ends up with the ball. He drives the left baseline and draws a blocking foul. He hits only the first free throw.
9: McDermott isn't on the court when Gibbs steals UNI's inbounds pass in the backcourt. The ball swings around the perimeter, then back to Gibbs, who misses an open 3 at the top of the key. Chatman chases the loose ball into the Creighton bench. He can't save it.
10: Down 57-52, Creighton tries to get Wragge a 3 off a double screen. Koch busts through it and deflects Chatman's pass. Wragge grabs him trying to get to the loose ball.
11: Desperation time. Gibbs comes down and launches a quick 3. Wragge misses the follow. UNI rebounds and gets fouled.
Eleven possessions. One McDermott touch. By the time he drove the lane for his buzzer-beating dunk, the Panthers had completed an 18-4 run.
What's going on? Why is arguably the nation's premier scorer so quiet in the clutch?
McDermott deserves a piece of the blame. But the greater share falls on his coach and teammates. One touch every four minutes is a stark contrast from the dedication Creighton showed McDermott a year ago.
In 2011-12, teammates were almost obsessed with getting him layups. They moved the ball with the sole purpose of finding the best angle to feed the post — hitting him at that exact moment he flashed open. McDermott could take advantage of his quick release and score before the defense confronted him.
The whole offensive process was something out of a geometry book. It was mesmerizing.
This year, the Jays — including McDermott — are more perimeter-oriented. Teammates don't move the ball in an effort to get McDermott a layup, they move the ball to find an open 3. They consistently miss the split-second when he emerges open in the post.
As a result, when McDermott does catch the ball on the block, it's a more traditional post-up. It's not his strength — he can't take advantage of the quick release. And unlike last year, when he gives up the ball, he rarely gets it back.
The Jays undoubtedly have additional issues late in games. They dearly miss Antoine Young's ability to score off the dribble. And their best shooters continue to miss open looks. But it starts with No. 3.
You can isolate any of those 10 possessions at UNI in which McDermott didn't touch the ball and deem it reasonable. But collectively, there's something wrong. At some point, a coach or a teammate must step up and say, “No excuses, we're getting Doug a shot right now.”
If you're going down, Creighton, at least give your All-American a chance to save you.
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