NEW YORK-Big Apple, meet Doug McDermott. The Creighton Bluejays may stay in town a while because of him.
DePaul entered with good intentions following an upset win over Georgetown in the first round of the Big East Tournament. The Blue Demons were 16.5-point underdogs to No. 14 Creighton but figured to have the confidence to keep the game close.
There was one problem. They had to deal with McDermott.
The All-American senior put on an absolute clinic Thursday night, setting a tournament record with 27 points in the first half en route to a game-high 35 in an 84-62 Creighton romp.
“We dug ourselves a hole, or Creighton dug a hole for us,” DePaul head coach Oliver Purnell said.
From the gun, it was all about McDermott’s offensive dominance. He opened the scoring with a three-pointer and never let up. In the first half alone, he knocked down seven three pointers and shot 10 for 14. His 27 first-half points not only set a tournament record, he also nearly outscored DePaul. The Blue Demons finished with 29 points at the half.
“In my opinion, (McDermott) is the best player in the country,” Purnell said. “He’s a good player and you do have to pick your poison.”
The game resembled a three-point contest early. In the first six minutes, the teams combined to take nine shots from downtown. Seven of Creighton’s first nine shots were threes. It was obvious that the Bluejays had come out with the intention of knocking down long-range shots. The issue for DePaul was that it seemed like Oliver Purnell’s squad seemed perfectly content to leave the shooters plenty of space. At least six of Creighton’s 11 first-half treys were taken with little or no pressure being applied.
“We were just trying to throw different types of people at him,” DePaul guard Brandon Young said. “He’s a great player…great players do great things.”
McDermott and Jahenns Manigat combined to score 33 of Creighton’s first 38 points, including a combined 10 for 12 from behind the arc.
“They’re a really good team,” Purnell said. “They’ve got a chance to go far in this tournament and represent our league well.”
Despite the lights-out shooting, DePaul still only found itself down 31-23 with five minutes to go in the half. Then, Creighton went on a tear. McDermott hit an acrobatic driving layup and Austin Chatman netted a fast-break layup to put the Jays ahead 35-23 with 4:35 left. From there, Creighton outscored DePaul 14-5 to take a 49-29 lead into the locker room.
“I didn’t think our energy level was as high as it was in the game yesterday,” Purnell said.
DePaul started playing better as the second half opened, but Creighton continued to rip the nets up. The primary reason was this mind-boggling stat: with 15:47 remaining in the game, DePaul had attempted 12 three-pointers; Creighton had made 12 of them.
But suddenly, DePaul found a way to defend against the trey. Jamee Crockett completed a four-point play, and a Tommy Hamilton fadeaway with 10:48 remaining brought the Blue Demons to within 58-48.
And then, the barrage began again. A little over four minutes later, Creighton had grabbed a 72-52 lead. Every time DePaul attempted to come back, Creighton would start a run to extend the advantage.
Creighton kept a cushion for the duration of the game before pulling away for good at the end.
Young scored 22 points in his final game as a Blue Demon to lead the team in scoring. He leaves as the fourth-highest scoring player in DePaul history. Unfortunately, his last game was penetrated by the chorus of fans chanting “CU” as the game clock wound down.
“I had a great four years here,” Young said. “I want to thank everybody involved in DePaul basketball for giving me a chance to play here.”
DePaul finishes the year at 12-21 and will look to the duo of Hamilton and Billy Garrett Jr. to lead them in the years to come.
Young’s exit is a deflating one, but his head coach gave him a ringing endorsement after the game.
“I think Brandon exemplifies what our program is all about. He just hung in there and fought through and battled to the point where he played his best basketball by far coming down the stretch,” Purnell said. “If he battles like this in anything he does…the amount of time, the work ethic, he’s going to be successful.”