Louisiana-Lafayette upset bid falls short
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Louisiana-Lafayette had bottled up Creighton star Doug McDermott for most of the second half and even had a late lead in an upset bid against the No. 3 seed Bluejays.
Then the Ragin' Cajuns let Ethan Wragge get free for open 3-pointers.
Once. Twice. Three times.
Wragge made three big shots to spark a late push and Creighton got 30 points and 12 rebounds from McDermott to earn a tough 76-66 win Friday over No. 14 Louisiana-Lafayette in the second round of the NCAA tournament West Regional.
"We lost Wragge," Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said. "That's the guy we were concerned about. He hit some big ones."
The Ragin' Cajuns knew McDermott could put up huge numbers. The national scoring leader has done it all season. Letting Wragge, one of the nation's best 3-point shooters, get free for open looks shots changed momentum and ultimately ended Louisiana-Lafayette's first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2000.
"Going into the game we felt we were very capable of beating these guys," Louisiana-Lafayette's Shawn Long said. "They just hit some nice shots down the stretch."
Creighton's victory mean's the McDermott family stays together on the court for a few more days at least. Doug McDermott opted against going to the NBA after last season to play one more year with his father, Creighton coach Greg McDermott .
Everything is paying off so far. Doug's senior season has been nothing short of individually spectacular as the nation's leading scorer is a favorite for just about every national player of the year award. He's also now scored at least 30 points in four of Creighton's last five games.
The question is, just how far can he carry the Bluejays through the next few weeks before his college career is finally over?
The Ragin' Cajun had their chances to end it.
Junior guard Elfrid Payton scored 24 points and took the lead in defending McDermott, a tenacious effort that held McDermott scoreless for about 14 minutes of the second half.
"From the opening tip we got on a good run, took the lead," Payton said. "I think I did a good job keeping of him uncomfortable."
McDermott finally put the dagger in the game with a long 3-pointer with 2:03 to play that put Creighton ahead 71-64.
McDermott knew the Bluejays had been in a fight. As soon as the final buzzer sounded, he clapped his hands, exhaled and high-fived Wragge under the basket.
"We got away with one today," McDermott said. "We have a veteran team and showed that down the stretch."
Creighton looked tight early, perhaps because of the pressure to push (or ride) McDermott as far as they can go. The Bluejays, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, missed their first six attempts from long range and struggled to get the ball to McDermott on some of his quick cuts to the basket.
McDermott did whatever he could, slipping into seams for layups and gathering 10 first half rebounds, to keep the Bluejays going. He scored nine in a row in one burst but just as often was left wanting the ball when teammates couldn't find him with the quick pass when he was open.
Long blocked a McDermott shot, but sent the ball so fall it fell right to Creighton guard Austin Chatman for a 3-pointer. The Ragin' Cajuns answered with Payton's 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut Creighton's lead to 39-33 at halftime.
The block was the statement that Louisiana-Lafayette had no plans to step aside.
The Ragin' Cajuns stayed aggressive and took their first lead of the second half at 48-46 when 6-foot-6, 325-pound Center J.J. Davenport posted up before hitting a soft fall away jumper with just under 13 minutes to play.
Greg McDermott seemed relieved his team didn't end up yet another upset victim in a tournament already full of them.
"A lot of crazy things have happened in this tournament," Greg McDermott said. "You have to survive and advance."