Doug McDermott's finest hour at Creighton ended Tuesday night with him making the biggest shot of his illustrious career.
The two-time All-American delivered a game-winning 25-footer with 2.5 seconds to play, capping a 39-point performance that carried the No. 20 Bluejays to a 63-60 victory over St. John's before a sellout crowd of 17,515 at the CenturyLink Center.
“A big-time shot by a big-time player,” Red Storm coach Steve Lavin said.
It was the kind of shot to finish off a virtuoso performance that should solidify McDermott as the front-runner for college basketball's player-of-year awards.
“I don't spend much time thinking about that, and I don't think Doug does, either,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He came back for a reason, and he wanted to enjoy the time he has left with this group of guys.
“Tonight is a night he'll never forget.”
Nor will anyone who witnessed McDermott carry his team on a night when Lavin's game plan was to take his Creighton teammates out of the game. It almost worked: the rest of the Bluejays shot a combined 8 of 21 from the field and committed 15 turnovers against an athletic St. John's defense.
But in the end, Doug McBuckets was Doug McDifference. After St. John's had battled back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game with 1:37 to play, McDermott answered with a layup with 1:03 to play to put his team ahead 60-58.
The Red Storm weren't finished, forging one last tie with 11 seconds left when Rysheed Jordan made two free throws. After a timeout by each team, Creighton's Ethan Wragge started the game-winning play by inbounding the ball to point guard Austin Chatman.
Chatman pushed it upcourt before passing to Jahenns Manigat, who saw McDermott standing in the open after coming off a screen set by Isaiah Zierden.
“It was a great read by Doug and a great read by 'Z,' ” Manigat said. “I think the screen is what's going to be overlooked here, but Isaiah made a great read. If he makes the wrong read, their guy would have been able to fight through it and challenge Doug.”
That “guy” was Chris Obekpa, the Red Storm's 6-foot-9 shot-blocking machine. Zierden pinned down Obekpa long enough that McDermott was able to take a crosscourt pass from Manigat, set his feet and let fly a fallaway 3-point attempt over Obekpa's outstretched hand.
“He made a good attempt at it,” McDermott said. “I was open initially, but those guys are so long and athletic that they can make any shot a challenge. But he was just a little too late.
“When the game is on the line, it's my favorite time to step up. I knew it was going in right from the get-go.”
The ball dropped through the net with 2.5 seconds remaining. McDermott didn't initially see it drop — he and Zierden both wound up sprawled on the court. The roar of the crowd told McDermott all he needed to know, and he unleashed a scream as he picked himself up.
Earlier this season, McDermott had made his first game-winning shot ever to give Creighton a victory at St. Joseph's.
“This one felt much better,” McDermott said. “In the Big East, against such a great team. We didn't play our best. They did a great job of taking Ethan out of the game. If they're going to do that, it's just going to open up the floor for me and our other shooters.
“This one feels much better than the one at St. Joe's.”
After several timeouts, the officials put 2.8 seconds on the clock, but all St. John's could do is get a hurried halfcourt attempt from Phil Greene IV that fell short.
McDermott has finished two games with more points than he had against St. John's and matched that total in another game. But given what St. John's did to negate the rest of the Bluejays, it might be difficult to argue that any of those other three games, including his 41-point effort last March against Wichita State, was bigger.
“Playing at home, this was the best feeling I've ever had,” McDermott said.
In his father's eye, Doug's performance definitely equaled the effort against the Shockers that allowed Creighton to win the Missouri Valley regular-season championship.
“We had some guys that didn't play their best games tonight, and a few guys that didn't feel their best,” Greg McDermott said. “We needed a horse, and he was it.”
McDermott made 15 of 26 shots from the field, including 5 of 9 3-point attempts. He also had six rebounds and two assists while playing 37 minutes.
He scored 20 points to help Creighton take a 29-25 halftime lead. St. John's got the first basket of the second half before McDermott scored eight straight points to ignite a 17-1 surge that left Creighton ahead 46-28 with 12:43 left.
At that point, McDermott had 30 of the Bluejays' 46 points.
“He's going to get his, no matter what,” Lavin said. “We've seen different ways that teams have tried to scheme or game plan him, but he consistently ends up between 25 and 30 points.
“We wanted to shut down Wragge and limit his touches. They're a strong tandem, and they play well as a pair inside and outside. We wanted to take half of that away.”
Wragge, the Bluejays' second-leading scorer and 3-point bomber, got just three shots, none in the first half. He finished with three points, while Chatman had seven and Will Artino six.
D'Angelo Harrison scored 15 for St. John's (12-9, 2-6), while Jordan and Obekpa each had 11 and JaKarr Sampson 10. They led the rally that first forced a tie at 58-58 on Sampson's basket and 60-60 on Jordan's two free throws.
McDermott's basket allowed Creighton (18-3) to finish the first half of its first season in its new conference with an 8-1 record.
“It goes without saying that I never imagined that we'd be in this position after the first time through,” said Greg McDermott, whose team is assured of no worse than a first-place tie after the first go-round. “We've found a way to win on the road, but there's a long ways to go.
“Anything can happen in this league. There's not a lot of difference between the teams that are on the bottom and the teams that are on the top.”
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>> Video: See Doug McDermott discuss his game-winning shot:
>> Video: See CU coach Greg McDermott speak to the media after the win:
>> Video: See St. John's coach Steve Lavin speak after the game:
>> Video: See highlights from Creighton's win over St. John's:
>> Video: See Fox Sports announcers Kevin Kugler and Jim Jackson recap the game:
>> Video: See Doug McDermott talk to Jim Jackson of Fox Sports:
>> Video: See highlights of the game from Fox Sports: