ST. LOUIS — After not being a factor in Creighton's first two Valley tournament wins, Ethan Wragge turned in an impact performance in Sunday's championship game.
The junior forward made five 3-pointers and scored 15 points in the 68-65 victory against Wichita State. The 16 minutes he played was one more than his total in the first two games against Drake and Indiana State.
“It felt good to get in there and contribute today,” Wragge said. “It was kind of matchup things the first two games but today I felt that I could take advantage of the opportunity.”
Wragge jump-started a Bluejay offense that got off to a slow start against the Shockers. The teams combined to make 2 of their first 25 shots, with Creighton clinging to a 6-3 lead until Wragge connected on his first shot with 11:24 left in the half.
He connected again two possessions later, and made his third shot of the game to give Creighton a 19-7 lead with 8:50 left in the half. The Shockers then got going, and took their only lead when Malcolm Armstead scored to make it 28-27 with 2:15 left in the half.
Thirty seconds later, Creighton regained a lead it never relinquished when Wragge connected from the wing. He added another 3-pointer in the second half, finishing the game 5 of 9 from behind the arc.
“Once I got that first one down, I got in a rhythm,” Wragge said. “You make that first one, and then it just seems like you can get that second one off a little quicker. When that one went in, I felt like it was going to be pretty good day.”
Wragge's fifth basket came during a stretch when Creighton increased its lead while All-American Doug McDermott was on the bench with three fouls in the second half.
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Coach Greg McDermott said Sunday underscored Wragge's value to the Bluejays.
“Ethan is going to start for almost every other team in our league,” McDermott said. “He's mature enough and unselfish enough to understand the role we need him to play for our team to have the best chance to win.
“I don't think twice about throwing Ethan in there.”
Keying on Doug opens up other options
Wichita State clamped down on Doug McDermott, holding him to 14 points and limiting him to 5-of-13 shooting from the field. The junior forward had burned the Shockers for 41 points on 15-of-18 shooting in Creighton's 91-79 win March 2.
Greg McDermott said the Shockers committed one of their guards to help out inside on his son. That helped keep Doug McDermott under control but it opened up some other options for the Bluejays.
“We ran some plays early for Doug, and they jumped it with a guard from a long ways away,” Greg McDermott said. “The reality of it is you try to figure out what their plan is and then you try to adjust accordingly.
“The way they guarded Doug was the reason Jahenns (Manigat) was able to shoot eight 3s and all of them wide open. The way they guarded Doug and Gregory (Echenique) is the reason Ethan gets nine looks at the 3. You have to pick your poison with us.”
The extra attention Wichita State devoted to Doug McDermott didn't surprise the coach.
“I would have done the same thing,” he said. “I'd have made us hit jump shots. Fortunately, we were able to hit enough today to win.”
CU remains perfect in St. Louis finales
Creighton's win enabled the Bluejays to improve to 9-0 in championship games played in St. Louis. It also enabled Creighton to deny the Shockers their first title in St. Louis.
The veterans on Wichita State's team came to the tournament last season seeded No. 1 but lost in the semifinals. This time, the Shockers were the No. 2 seed but lost in the final.
“I'm just disappointed this senior group didn't get to cut down nets,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “I do believe that the group that's in our locker room will do so many times. I don't know how many, but I think it will be multiple times over the next two or three years.
“We get to lick our wounds and go back and try to get better.”
It gets physical for Shockers and Jays
The wounds Marshall referred to were probably not just mental. The title game was a physical fare that players on both sides are bound to feel in the coming days.
“It was a war,” Marshall said. “It was, both ways. If you don't go in there with some malice, you weren't going to be able to put it in the basket.”
Sunday's action wasn't for the faint of heart, which made it tough on Creighton's Josh Jones. He had to give up the game in early December because of a heart issue, and he said watching from his seat behind the Creighton bench was difficult.
“I almost passed out,” he said. “My heart rate was really going but I really didn't care. I felt like I was almost playing in that game, except this was tougher.”
Creighton has plenty of support from fans
As they have throughout the tournament, Creighton's players gave props to the 6,000 or so fans that provided them with unparalleled support in St. Louis.
“It was like a home game for us,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “In some ways, it might have been better because of the way they supported us. When you have that many people screaming for you, it's hard to lose.”
Wragge called the support the Bluejays received special.
“I've been coming here four years, and it was never better than this year,” he said. “This was absolutely the best.”
Creighton's next game will come in the NCAA tournament. One of the eight sites for second- and third-round games will be the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. Greg McDermott said Creighton could see a repeat of this weekend's support if it is fortunate to land a spot there.
“Our fans are crazy,” McDermott said. “They're incredible and incredibly crazy because of the passion they have for our program.
“The guys have said it many times these last three days that it felt like a home game. Our fans were into it. They picked the right times to energize our team.”
Before each game, thousands of Creighton fans showed up at the team's hotel to provide what Greg McDermott called an unbelievable send-off.
“It gives you goose bumps,” McDermott said. “The hair stands up on the back of your neck when you come down that escalator with all those people. It's a special moment in these guys' basketball careers.
“The crowd was great. It was huge for us. We certainly appreciate they were here.”
Bits and pieces
Creighton's Doug McDermott was named the tournament's MVP for the second straight year and was joined by center Gregory Echenique on the all-tournament team. Wichita State's Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead and Illinois State's Jackie Carmichael also earned all-tournament recognition. McDermott and Creighton's Kyle Korver are the only players in league history to win the MVP honor twice. … Echenique's six blocks were a record for a championship game. He blocked 13 shots in the three games, second-most in tournament history behind Creighton's Benoit Benjamin. … In addition to winning the tournament for a record 12th time, the Bluejays won back-to-back championships for the third time in their history. Creighton also went back-to-back in 1999 and 2000 and in 2002 and 2003. … The Bluejays outscored Wichita State 30-20 when Doug McDermott was on the bench. … The championship game attendance of 16,659 was the second-largest in tournament history behind the 22,612 for the 2007 title game. Attendance for the four days totaled 71,029, second to the 85,074 in 2007.
— Steven Pivovar