Doug McDermott leads Creighton past Cincinnati in NCAA tournament

In a battle pitting the Big East’s future against its past, rising mid-major Creighton, which is joining the soon-to-be reconstituted league this summer, edged Cincinnati, 67-63, on Friday to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Region.

Seeded No. 7, Creighton was led by versatile and deceptively athletic junior forward Doug McDermott, son of Bluejays Coach Greg McDermott. The younger McDermott finished with a game-high 27 points and 11 rebounds.

With the victory, Creighton earned a date with No. 2 seed Duke on Sunday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.

Creighton earned its NCAA tournament berth by winning the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament titles, while Cincinnati, the No. 10 seed, made it on the dubious merits of a .500 Big East record.

Creighton is joining the Big East on July 1, along with Xavier and Butler, which also won its NCAA tournament opener. Cincinnati is staying with what remains of the current Big East, open to joining the exodus but finding no suitors as yet.

Cincinnati’s Cashmere Wright opened the scoring with back-to-back three-pointers. But that six-point lead was the Bearcats’ biggest of the game and proved short-lived, to boot, against the fundamentally sound and selfless Bluejays, who shot 46 percent from the field, hit 22 of 25 free throws and got assists on 16 of their 19 baskets.

McDermott, a 6-8 junior forward, doesn’t look like an athlete, with out-turned feet and no discernible muscle tone. But he anticipates the ball exceptionally well, is active on the boards and can drive for baskets or hit from long range. And he did all that against the Bearcats, who shot horribly and often but stayed in the game by forcing 16 turnovers and tough shots.

Roughly midway through the first half, the Bearcats were 5 of 17 from the field, compared with Creighton’s 5 of 7.

After McDermott put the Bluejays ahead 26-25 with an off-balance layup with 4:30 remaining in the first half, Creighton went nearly three minutes without scoring.

McDermott outscored the entire Cincinnati team 8-2 over the final minutes of the first half to put the Bluejays up, 32-27, at the break.

The Bearcats, who wore garish Adidas uniforms the color of rutted asphalt and trimmed in the neon-orange of traffic cones, shot better in the early going of the second half. But in an effort to slow McDermott, sent Creighton’s most valuable player to the line too often, where he was a perfect 11 of 11.

On back-to-back baskets by Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati tied it at 54 each with 3:33 remaining.

Creighton’s Gregory Echenique followed with the most critical basket of the game, muscling in for a tough layup. Cincinnati turned it over at the other end, and Creighton got the layup. But Justin Jackson blocked the Bluejays’ shot.

Creighton rebounded the subsequent Cincinnati miss.

And McDermott drew a foul on his drive for a missed layup but hit the free throws that followed.

With 53 seconds left and Creighton up 60-54, McDermott called for flagrant-1 foul that sent Shaquille Thomas to the line and handed possession to the Bearcats. Thomas missed the free throws but stepped back on the subsequent inbound play and drilled a three-pointer.

And it ground to a conclusion on the free-throw line, where Cincinnati’ struggled, hitting just four of nine attempts, sealed its defeat.

Liz Clarke currently covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post, she has also covered five Olympic Games, two World Cups and written extensively about college sports, tennis and auto racing.
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