ST. LOUIS — Doug McDermott got a scoring record Friday, Will Artino got a chance to showcase his skills on the big stage and Gregory Echenique got mad.
The first two factored heavily into Creighton’s 65-53 victory against Drake in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, but the last one might have been the deciding factor in moving the Bluejays along to Saturday’s semifinals.
Echenique scored all 11 points of his points in the second half, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked six shots. Six of his points, five of his rebounds and five of the blocks came after Echenique got roughed up — tackled, he said — while cutting toward the basket midway through the second half.
No foul was called, but Drake might have wished one had been. After the no-call, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Echenique turned up the intensity to fuel a 15-2 run that turned a 47-44 Creighton lead into a 16-point cushion.
“It made me kind of mad when that happened,” Echenique said. “It changed my attitude a little, and gave me a little more of an edge. I had to find a way to get that anger out, and I couldn’t say anything to the ref and risk getting a technical or something.
“I think I did the right thing, and it kind of capped my focus. It made me play harder.”
With Echenique leading the late charge, Creighton finally subdued a stubborn Bulldog team that was playing to extend its season in an atmosphere that resembled a Bluejays home game. Creighton fans filled almost two-thirds of the 9,000 seats in the lower bowl of the Scottrade Center, and experienced some anxious moments before their team finally took command.
McDermott, Artino and Echenique figured heavily into the outcome that improved the Bluejays to 25-7 and advanced them to a 1:35 p.m. semifinal meeting against Indiana State, which defeated Evansville 51-50 in Friday’s second quarterfinal.
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“Will was great the first half and made some great plays in the second half,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Doug was consistent offensively throughout, and I thought Gregory really changed the game defensively in the second half.
“There was nothing that happened in the paint because of his energy and his ability to block some shots and change shots. And he went and got the basketball off the boards.”
Doug McDermott finished with 23 points, setting the school scoring record when he got his 11th point on a free throw with 4:43 left in the first half. He made 8 of 14 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, and grabbed seven rebounds.
Artino, whose role has grown as his productivity has increased during the second half of the season, had a career-high 14 points and six rebounds. Five of his points came in a 7-0 run in the first half that turned a 12-12 tie into a lead Creighton never relinquished.
Still, things were getting tight when Drake, which had defeated Bradley in Thursday’s play-in round, closed to 47-44 on Seth VanDeest’s basket with 10:03 to play. On their next possession, the 15-17 Bulldogs missed an open 3-pointer that would have tied the game.
In between, Echenique found himself sprawled on the court after getting bumped hard as he moved toward the basket on a pick-and-roll play. He stayed down for several seconds, then glared at a referee as he got to his feet.
Echenique turned into an aggressive force in the final 10 minutes.
“We are a totally different team,” Greg McDermott said when asked what a fired-up Echenique means to his club. “We don’t resemble the team that we are when he isn’t playing like that. He is so active. He made multiple plays on several possessions.
“I’m really proud of him, because sometimes it’s hard to get the switch flipped. When it gets flipped, he’s hard to deal with.”
Echenique’s dunk and free throw after being fouled started Creighton’s decisive run, putting the Bluejays ahead 50-44. A VanDeest layup would cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to four, but they wouldn’t score again for almost eight minutes while Creighton stretched its lead to 62-46.
“You have to know how to use it when you get mad,” Echenique said. “I think I used it the right way out there today.”
His teammates know the Bluejays are a different team when Echenique is engaged, one reason Doug McDermott pulled him aside at halftime. Echenique had missed both of his shots in the first 20 minutes and, McDermott said, appeared to be down on himself.
“I just told him, ‘Greg, you have to be the man here,’ ” Doug said. “I told him he was going to be our guy and we were going to feed him the ball. He took that to heart and played with a command.
“I’m proud of him, and hopefully he can continue to bring that night after night.”
Echenique scored five of Creighton’s first eight points in the second half. Artino then had four in row as Creighton opened its first 10-point lead of the game before Drake countered with a 9-2 spurt that got the Bulldogs back with three points.
Echenique “was definitely a big factor,” said VanDeest, who had 13 points. “He has a huge body and uses his body around the basket. He really stepped up in the second half.”
Drake coach Mark Phelps agreed.
“Look at his numbers,” Phelps said. “He had 11 and 11, and had six blocks. He was really good tonight.”
Artino was never better. His 14 points bettered his career high of 13. He was two rebounds off his personal best, and his play, especially in the first half, gave Creighton a huge boost.
“Will was tremendous,” Doug McDermott said. “He’s so easy to play with because he can see over the defense, he’s good at the high-low pass and he crashes the boards every time. It’s great to have a guy like Will on the team.”
It goes without saying that it’s pretty valuable to have McDermott around, too. He came in needing 11 points to break Rodney Buford’s scoring record of 2,106. McDermott had 10 points in the first 7 ½ minutes, then broke the record when he made the first of two free throws with 4:43 left in the half.
McDermott now has 2,029 points in 106 games as a Bluejay, but who’s counting?
“It’s a special feeling that I can’t explain to pass guys like Kyle Korver, guys I looked up to in my childhood,” he said. “And to do it in front of a big crowd here in St. Louis is cool.
“But I don’t even think about that stuff. You guys are going to make the most of it, but I’m just out there trying to win and play hard every night.”
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>> Video: Creighton's Doug McDermott becomes the school's all-time scoring leader:
>> Video: Doug McDermott discusses the Bluejays' victory: