OMAHA — Doug McDermott has been more mild-mannered Clark Kent than save-the-world-aggressor Superman in games against Wichita State during his illustrious Creighton career.
That changed Saturday.
The Man of Steel appeared just in time for an 15-of-18 shooting performance, which included 5 of 8 three-pointers. Throw in 6 of 6 at the free-throw line and McDermott became the first player to score 40 points – McDermott had 41 – since former Creighton center Chad Gallagher had 40 against WSU in 1990, according to the WSU media relations department.
“I thought I ran the floor better than I have been,’’ McDermott said after Creighton’s 91-79 victory. “And my shots were going in. My teammates did a good job of finding me in the right spots.’’
Superman always did speak softly.
The Shockers, in the tussle of their lives with a Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship on the line, tried everything against McDermott. Everything that in five previous games had worked relatively well.
McDermott had averaged 14.2 points, 4.7 points below his career average, against the Shockers during his career. WSU had held him in check by sending different defenders at him, sometimes in waves.
But McDermott was ready this time as he went to work against the Shockers’ strongest player, 6-foot-8 Carl Hall, early. McDermott scored Creighton’s first nine points.
And no matter what WSU did the rest of the game, he kept scoring. And scoring and scoring.
He was so good, and so impossible to deter, that Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall could only tip his hat. There was no anger in Marshall’s voice after the game, only respect.
“He’s a great player,’’ Marshall said of McDermott. “What’s not to like about the way he plays the game? He really works and today he got loose. And once he got loose it was hard to get him back under control. He was really special.’’
Ironically, it was with McDermott on the bench for a rare breather that Creighton went on a second-half run that stretched a 55-52 lead with 11:40 remaining to 69-54 just 4:16 later.
The last three points of that run came on a ridiculous Grant Gibbs three-pointer after he jumped to catch a pass just in front of the Bluejays’ bench as the shot clock was winding down. He had to awkwardly foist the basketball toward the basket and it went in.
That’s when, as the opposing team, you give a salute and concede.
But Wichita State, as it did for most of the day, fought back. The Shockers got to within 69-63 before Creighton, this time with McDermott leading the charge, got hot again.
There were few times in the game when the Bluejays weren’t hot. They shot 70.2 percent, made 11 of 21 three-pointers and were 14 of 16 from the free-throw line.
It was obvious early on that the Shockers were going to have to beat the Creighton team that started the season 17-1, and not the one that had gone 6-6 since, a slide that started with a tough 67-64 loss to the Shockers on Jan. 9 at Koch Arena.
“That’s the Creighton team I was talking about the first time we played them,’’ Marshall said. “That was the best team I had seen in this league. Offensively, they were so good today. I’m not sure that I’ve ever, as a coach, given up 90 points in a regular 40-minute game. We tried just about everything in our arsenal but they were spectacular. And we did not play that poorly.’’
No way the Bluejays could have expected to slice and dice the Shockers’ defense for 91 points. It was a defense that had allowed 59.6 points in its previous 17 MVC games and held Valley opponents to 39.8-percent shooting.
“If you had told me they would score 80 in this game.… ” Creighton coach and Doug’s dad Greg McDermott said. “Well, I didn’t sleep much last night anyway, but I wouldn’t have slept a wink if I had known they were going to score 80.’’
There’s a technicality here.
McDermott said that when he thought the Shockers had scored 80, which was the number on the box score after the game. After further review, though, WSU’s point total was taken back to 79 because the Shockers’ Tekele Cotton had missed two free throws in the final seconds, not one as originally ruled by the scorer.
Whatever Wichita State’s point total was, it was enough to win a lot of games. But not the one played Saturday against a determined, skilled and red-hot Creighton team with one of the best super heroes – I mean players – in the country.
As Marshall prepared to leave the postgame podium, he remembered that he had forgotten to say something. It concerned the potential of Creighton leaving the Missouri Valley after this season to join a new league being formed by seven Catholic schools from the Big East.
Marshall wanted reporters to know that if Creighton does leave, he’s in favor of continuing to play the Bluejays in non-conference games.
Marshall would prefer, I’m betting, that Doug McDermott would have retreated back to Planet Krypton if that comes about.