In the long run, grinding out a victory at Butler might have greater value for Creighton's basketball team than had the Bluejays won with a blowout.
It's February, a time when Creighton has experienced some rough moments in each of the past two seasons. Two seasons ago, the Bluejays suffered consecutive losses to Northern Iowa, Evansville and Wichita State. Last season's three-game skid: Indiana State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa.
“I think it's something you think about,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said, “and it's definitely there in your mind.”
Especially after last Sunday's 70-65 loss to St. John's.
“All of us that had been around had the feeling that we didn't want to go down that slope again,” center Will Artino said. “It was never really talked about but I think we all thought about it.
“We knew we had to battle back and get this win because this is right about where we hit those skids the past two years. We don't want that to happen again.”
The loss to St. John's struck a nerve because it was similar to several of the ones the Bluejays sustained during the skids of the past two seasons. They got blown out in a couple of the defeats but the other four were in games where a handful of plays decided the outcome.
Against St. John's, Creighton was clinging to a lead until D'Angelo Harrison buried a 3-point shot with just more than two minutes to play. The Bluejays had several opportunities to regain the lead but couldn't get the job done.
That's why the Bluejays relished Thursday's victory over the Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Big East's last-place team, Butler took a two-point lead with 1:13 to play.
Doug McDermott's 3-pointer with 47.8 seconds remaining put the Bluejays back on top, and Creighton came up with two clutch defensive series before Austin Chatman sealed the 68-63 win with four free throws in the final 18 seconds.
“This one is really good for us,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We had an opportunity to grind one out at St. John's and we didn't get the job done. Tonight, we made free throws and Doug hit the 3 in a critical situation.
“It's the same 3 he missed the other night (against St. John's) and we missed the free throws.”
McDermott missed 4 of his 5 3-pointers against St. John's on a night when the Bluejays shot 5 of 22 from beyond the arc. Creighton's 22.7 percent shooting from 3-point range was its second-lowest percentage of the season.
The Bluejays also missed 11 free throws against St. John's. They were 12 of 15 from the line against Butler, including 5 of 6 in the second half.
That's when the pressure of a close game built. Creighton jumped to a 15-7 lead but the Bulldogs got themselves and the crowd of 7,805 back into the game by rallying to cut the deficit to three points at the half.
The Bluejays had several opportunities to build some separation in the final 20 minutes but Butler refused to let the game slip out of control. Creighton then came up with the big plays at the end to collect the win that keeps it in a race with Villanova for the conference championship.
The Wildcats bring a 10-1 league record into Sunday's game at the CenturyLink Center. Creighton is a half-game back at 10-2.
“This was a huge win for us,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “We didn't play our best basketball, and it was big to go into a hostile environment and win. We'll take wins any way we can get them at this point.”
They got it as Doug McDermott continued his string of clutch performances. His 3-pointer marked the third time this season he has won a game with a shot in the final minute. He beat St. Joseph's in November with a basket with 4.9 seconds remaining, while his 3-pointer in the Jan. 28 win against St. John's came with 2.8 seconds to play.
During the past two seasons, McDermott has made 9 of 12 shots from the field in the last minute of games. He also is 20 of 24 from the foul line.
“To be able to walk away with a win like this is very satisfying,” McDermott said Thursday night. “Especially on the road and especially against a team like Butler. They're really scrappy and have a great fan base.”
McDermott's teammates have ultimate confidence in the two-time All-American when the game is on the line. They also believe in themselves, Gibbs said.
“We have that confidence in each other late in games, even with the ones we've dropped,” he said. “It's always there, and we were able to execute down the stretch (against Butler) and pull this one out in a tough environment.”'