PHILADELPHIA — Creighton senior Ethan Wragge has shot holes in a lot of game plans over the years.
He did so again Saturday night, bombing in seven 3-point baskets and scoring 21 points in the Bluejays’ dramatic 83-79 victory over St. Joseph’s at Hagan Arena.
The Hawks made it plain from the start that they were going to make things as difficult as they could for Creighton star Doug McDermott. That strategy left some openings for Wragge, and he took full advantage of it.
“Everyone knows that after I see the first one or two go,” Wragge said, “I’m going to try to get a bunch up after that.”
Wragge made four shots from beyond the arc in the first half when Creighton was having difficulty getting its offense out of neutral. He made 3 of 4 second-half attempts in establishing his career high.
He had made six 3-point baskets in a game four times, the first coming in an injury-shortened season three years ago at home against St. Joseph’s. His seven 3-point baskets Saturday also were the most by a Creighton player since Booker Woodfox made eight against the Hawks in a 2008 game.
St. Joseph’s early strategy Saturday appeared to frustrate McDermott but his teammates showed patience in trying to find other openings in the Hawks’ defense.
“Doug trusts his teammates,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He knows that they’ll get him the ball when the opportunity is there. Doug also understands that by moving and creating confusion as they switch and double team, that’s going to a guy like Ethan Wragge 11 3s.
“If you give Ethan Wragge 11 3s, you’re going to be in trouble because he’s going to make most of them.”
St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said his team’s initial strategy was to try to “guard the passer” to limit the Bluejays’ star player’s opportunities.
“He’s a fascinating player to watch,” Martelli said. “He doesn’t shoot the ball all the time around the basket, he redirects it. I thought we did a good job of getting our shoulders between him and the basket.
“I wasn’t certain we could guard him in the low post.”
McDermott, who came into the game averaging 28.5 points per game, made 7 of 14 shots in finishing with 20 points.
Countering defensive strategy
The Hawks also did a good job of countering Creighton’s primary defensive strategy.
“We weren’t going to let Ronald Roberts beat us,” Greg McDermott said.
Roberts, the Hawks’ 6-foot-8 senior forward, had averaged 18.5 points in the first two wins. He had been a handful for the Bluejays to try to contain two seasons ago, when St. Joseph’s scored an 80-71 win on its home court.
“We challenged a couple of their guys to make shots on us so that we could provide a little help with Ronald inside,” McDermott said. “DeAndre’ and Chris really stepped up and made us pay.”
Freshman DeAndre’ Bembry led the Hawks with 20 points, making 8 of 14 shots, including 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. Junior point guard Chris Wilson also attempted 11 3-pointers and made six in an 18-point night.
The Bluejays did limit Roberts to six shots as he scored 13 points. He did make two clutch free throws with 27 seconds to play to give his team a 79-78 lead.
Relief following season’s big test
Emerging with a win provided Greg McDermott with a bit of relief in what he called his least-favorite game of the season.
“A coach when he plays a team that is really good for the first time and you don’t know what your group of guys is made up, there is a lot of anxiety,” he said. “From here, we can take the things we did well today and build on them.
“There also are a lot of things that we can clean up.”
By showing some resolve, first when they fell behind by double digits early in the game and then squandering an eight-point lead in the late going, the Bluejays passed that first big test.
“This was very important to come into a hostile environment and show some resolve,” Wragge said. “It wasn’t pretty but we showed our fans and we showed each other that we can get it done.”
Bits and pieces
» Starting point guard Austin Chatman had to leave the game with about five minutes to play when he suffered a severe leg cramp. “It was a bad one,” said Chatman, who indicated he was OK after the game.
» St. Joseph’s attempted 31 3-point shots and made 14 (45.2 percent). “I thought we shot a few too many 3s, but I can live with that because most of them came out of the low post,” Martelli said. “We did a good job with our inside-out game tonight.” Creighton finished 11 of 22 from 3-point range and made 55.4 percent overall from the field.
» Saturday’s win marked the 13th time in 15 seasons that Creighton has opened the season 3-0.
» After being outrebounded 17-12 in the first half, the Bluejays came back to win the board battle 29-28.
» St. Joseph’s honored its 1962-63 team at halftime. Dr. Jack Ramsey, who coached that group to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, delivered the game ball to halfcourt before the game.