ST. LOUIS There was no doubt about the outcome in Doug McDermott's mind, even if the moment called for uncertainty. Seventh-seeded Drake had scrapped, survived and cut second-seeded Creighton's lead from 13 points to three with 1:24 left and a pro-Bluejays crowd on edge.
Was an upset possible Friday in a quarterfinal at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament? Not to the Bluejays' star sophomore guard. And not to his teammates who had experienced similar scenarios in their best season under second-year coach Greg McDermott, Doug's father.
When it was over, Creighton's goal of winning its first MVC tournament title since 2007 was still attainable. The Bluejays walked into a tunnel at the Scottrade Center following a 68-61 victory, below the roar from a boisterous Creighton contingent. As he has for much of the season, Doug McDermott drew praise with 26 points 17 of which came in the second half. As he has for much of the season, Doug McDermott pushed his team with key 3-pointers, fist pumps toward the crowd and an unwavering sense that he can carry the Bluejays late when he must do so.
But there is more to Creighton than Doug McDermott, the first sophomore to be named the MVC Player of the Year. As they showed Friday, the Bluejays' versatility will be one of their greatest assets as they continue their run in St. Louis and beyond.
"We have a bunch of confidence in each other," said Doug McDermott, who finished 9-of-15 shooting from the floor, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range. "We didn't get off to the best start, and they were shooting lights out. But we had to keep our cool out there and stick together, and we knew good things would happen."
As Drake learned, Doug McDermott commands attention with his average of 23.1 points per game, which ranks third nationally behind Oakland's Reggie Hamilton (25.5) and Weber State's Damian Lillard (24.7). He is Creighton's unquestioned star, a major reason why the Bluejays arrived at the Scottrade Center with more victories (25) than they had in all but two of their seasons under former coach Dana Altman from 1994 to 2010.
Still, the talent around Doug McDermott has made this season one Creighton will remember. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Ames, Iowa, native is quick to describe the contributors himself: Sophomore forward Ethan Wragge is unafraid to come off the bench and make clutch shots, junior guard Josh Jones is playing with the most confidence he has shown, junior center Gregory Echenique is strong in the paint area, junior guard Grant Gibbs is perhaps the most unselfish player Doug McDermott has ever seen and senior guard Antoine Young is skilled at distributing the ball in transition. To the Bluejays' leader, Creighton has depth Young (16) and Echenique (10) also finished with double-figure scoring Friday and that's the reason why the Bluejays have enjoyed consistent success this season.
"We're all good at knowing our role," said Wragge, who had five rebounds against Drake. "Doug's the guy that gets our points but we've got guys who block shots, rebound, come in and knock shots down. I think we know our role fairly well on this team. It helps us all reach our goal."
And the results show it. McDermott's production has attracted headlines over the past four months. But Creighton finished 14-4 in the MVC two games behind Wichita State with sound chemistry. Aside from losing consecutive games to Northern Iowa, Evansville and Wichita State in early February an experience Greg McDermott said made some who follow his program "ready to jump off a building" Creighton established itself as one of the nation's surprises because of the talent that surrounds its most consistent scorer.
Young, a second-team all-MVC selection, is one reason why opponents must account for more than Doug McDermott. He entered the MVC tournament second on his team with an average of 12.3 points per game the only other player other than McDermott who averages double-figure scoring. He also earned 134 assists in the regular season, a mark that was second on the team to Gibbs' 161.
"We have so many different weapons that attack you in different ways," Young said. "I think it makes us difficult to guard."
Beyond Doug McDermott and Young, though, Creighton had other weapons during a season in which it led the MVC in scoring offense with an average of 79.7 points per game. Sophomore guard Jahenns Manigat (.482) paced the league in 3-point percentage. And Echenique was second in the MVC with a .612 field-goal percentage, trailing only Northern Iowa's Seth Tuttle (.663).
Players feel confident in their roles, as Creighton's ability to avoid the upset Friday showed. Doug McDermott is the Bluejays' most dangerous threat, but others around him are comfortable playing their respective parts. There is no struggle for the spotlight, so no tension detracts from the team's postseason vision.
"They shoot it well," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "Manigat and Antoine Young are very talented point guards. Echenique his presence, his size and he has ability to score around the basket. They've got a deep, well-rounded team. Coach McDermott does a great job with them, and I don't think they're a one-man team at all."
Creighton will have at least one more chance to prove it here. The Bluejays began the year as the pick to win the MVC, but the Shockers won their last eight games to make them the league's marquee team. That streak included a 21-point victory over Creighton on Feb. 11 in Omaha, where McDermott was held to 13 points just one more than his season low.
If the Shockers and Bluejays meet in Sunday's championship game as expected, Creighton can improve upon that performance and add to a strong MVC tournament resume. The Bluejays' 10 MVC tournament titles are the most of any school. In addition, Creighton's depth might deliver Greg McDermott some MVC history: The former Northern Iowa coach, who captured the MVC tournament championship with the Panthers in 2004, could become the first person to win the event leading two different schools.
"They've got a group of guys that really shoot the 3-point shot well," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "They've got a team that's built well."
That build makes Creighton a contender to end its four-season MVC tournament drought. Doug McDermott has earned national accolades. But the Bluejays showed against the upset-minded Bulldogs that they have more to offer.
After a closer-than-expected opening test, a pocket of Creighton fans wearing blue stood as their star and others left from sight. Creighton had earned another chance to show there is plenty to complement Doug McDermott. Throughout March, there could be many more opportunities.