Creighton’s Doug McDermott left Hagan Arena with a win and an awful lot of respect for St. Joseph’s.
A viable national player of the year candidate, the 6-foot-8 McDermott was bottled up for much of the night but still hit the eventual game winning shot in Saturday’s 83-79 victory over the Hawks.
He turned a 79-78 deficit into an 81-79 lead with a conventional three-point play with 4.9 seconds left. McDermott was fouled just inside the three-point line and hit the ensuing free throw to give the Bluejays the lead for good.
He had averaged 28.5 points in the first two games, but was ‘held’ to 20 on 7 for 14 shooting by a Hawks team that aggressively double-teamed McDermott.
“I think St. Joe can play with any of Big East team,” McDermott said. “They are just as good.”
He was especially impressed with the frontcourt of Ronald Roberts Jr., Halil Kanacevic and DeAndre Bembry.
“Those big guys are really strong and they play well together and you have to give them a lot of credit,” McDermott said. “This was definitely a good test for us and gives us confidence going forward.”
The Bluejays are 3-0 and playing in the Big East, so they will return to the area on Jan. 20 when they face Villanova.
“St. Joe is so physical and defensive indeed and this is as tough a place to play as we have ever played,” McDermott said. “You have got to give the whole city credit, Philly, and we are going to see a lot more of it.”
Creighton competed last year in the Missouri Valley Conference, where Wichita State emerged as a Final Four team.
“Wichita State had a lot of big tough guys and that is what St. Joe reminds me of, they are so physical and defensive minded,” McDermott said.
Keep in mind that McDermott and Creighton were unbeaten when they came to Hagan Arena in December of 2010 and lost to the Hawks, 80-71 when McDermott was a sophomore. Last season at Creighton, the Bluejays won handily before being involved in this nail-biter.
While nothing will take away the disappointment of the loss, having such high praise from one of the country’s top players, is a credit to the Hawks.