Wichita State held Creighton under 70 points, outrebounded the Bluejays and watched Doug McDermott miss more than half his shots.
Close, but still not enough to beat the top-seeded Bluejays in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, an event that could be renamed the Creighton Invitational if the school’s future didn’t appear to be in another conference.
Creighton defeated second-seeded WSU 68-65 in Sunday’s championship game at the Scottrade Center. WSU lost for the second time in the title game in 23 trips to St. Louis. Creighton won its 12th tournament title and the Valley’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s hard when you have all the emotions that go into a game like that,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “The initial disappointment is paramount. We tip our hat to Creighton for making one more play. It came down to a three-point shot to tie the game.”
WSU (26-8) is expected to receive one of 37 at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament next Sunday. If selection committee members watched — CBS cut away from the final minutes in most of the country for the Indiana-Michigan game — they saw a resilient team that pushed Creighton (27-7) to the final second.
If reports are correct, Creighton will soon exit the Valley for the Big East. If so, the rivals sent out the series with tons of drama and physical play.
“It’s just an unbelievable rivalry we have with Wichita State,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of love lost between us, but I think there’s a lot of respect between us.”
WSU’s Malcolm Armstead’s off-balance three hit the rim and bounced away in the final second to end the game and bring a rush of Creighton fans onto the court. Armstead turned and grimaced at the painful end to a wonderful game. He scored a career-high 28 points and kept WSU’s offense afloat through difficult times.
Down three with 12 seconds to play, Marshall elected not to call timeout and let Armstead run a play selected during a timeout nine seconds earlier. WSU ran the same pick-and-pop play that worked for a game-winning three by Cleanthony Early at Illinois State. Creighton defended it well, not allowing Armstead to pass and making him shoot a guarded shot over the 6-foot-8 McDermott.
“I took a tough shot and didn’t convert it,” Armstead said. “I came off the screen and they switched it and that’s why I didn’t get a good look like I should have.”
McDermott was ready for the play.
“We knew Armstead was probably going to get that shot,” he said. “We were switching ball screens with him all game. I stuck with that, switched on to him and tried to get a hand in his face without fouling him. Luckily, he missed.”
The Shockers trailed most of the game, even while holding Creighton’s offense in check compared to a 91-79 loss in the regular-season finale. The Bluejays led 66-55 when WSU made it interesting. Armstead and Ron Baker made two threes. Carl Hall made a foul shot to cut the lead to 66-62. Another three by Armstead brought the Shockers within 66-65 with 43 seconds remaining.
“You just have to keep playing,” Early said. “You can’t look at the scoreboard and lose hope.”
Creighton’s Jahenns Manigat made a layup, barely slipping it by Hall’s block attempt, for a 68-65 lead with 21 seconds to play.
“I kind of got a fingertip on it,” Hall said. “I was guarding McDermott and he just made it hard for me because you can’t help. You’ve got to stay with him.”
The Shockers did that for much of the game. McDermott burned them for 41 points in Omaha. Sunday, he scored 14 on 5-of-13 shooting and missed all three of his three-pointers. Creighton made 41.5 percent of its shots, way below its usual rate, but made 11 of 24 threes. Manigat led the Bluejays with a season-high 16 points. Ethan Wragge came off the bench to make five threes and score 15 points. Manigat got loose early in the second half with two threes to build an eight-point lead for Creighton.
One burst from McDermott was enough for Creighton. He scored five straight points to give the Bluejays a 37-30 lead and grab momentum early in the second half. Bluejay shooters did the rest. Manigat made two threes to stretch the lead to 44-35. Wragge’s three over Ehimen Orukpe put Creighton up 47-39. Grant Gibbs made one for a 52-43 lead.