Jan. 15, 2012
By Tom Weber
OMAHA, Neb. - Southern Illinois got its first look at Doug McDermott, the nation's second-leading scorer, and it didn't like what it saw.
The sophomore forward took over in crunch time, sparking a 20-8 run late in the second half as No. 21 Creighton ran away with a 90-71 victory on Sunday.
McDermott scored 25 points to lead the Bluejays (16-2, 6-1), converting 8-of 14 shots from the field and all nine of his free throw attempts. The 6-foot-7 forward did most of his damage in the post, using an array of spin moves, then deftly shooting the ball with either hand.
"He has an uncanny ability to be on one end (of the floor) and get to the other end pretty quick and establish a post-up," said Saluki head coach Chris Lowery. "He can score without seeing where the basket is, with either hand. He does a great job of flipping them up and getting them over people no matter how tall they are."
As they did in recent games against Missouri State and Wichita State, the Salukis (6-12, 3-4) dug themselves an early hole, only to climb out of it with a furious second-half comeback. This time, Southern trailed by 12 at halftime, but quickly cut it to five, 53-48, on a driving layup by Jeff Early with 15:55 remaining. Creighton coach Greg McDermott warned his team at halftime of the Saluki rallies he'd seen on tape.
"A team coached by Chris Lowery is never going to quit, so we knew they were going to come back at us," McDermott said.
The teams exchanged buckets until a driving layup by SIU's Kourtney Goff cut the deficit to 59-55 with 12:38 to go. That was as close as Southern would come.
"They just shot layups and it's easy to score when you shoot layups," McDermott said. "I thought we did a better job of keeping them out of the lane and then we went after them inside."
Lowery said his team started settling for quick jump shots during Creighton's pivotal run, as the fast-paced tempo played into Creighton's hands.
"We fell in love with the jumper, and that's what got us," Lowery said. "We needed to keep force-feeding inside, because we know that Doug's not going to foul. You have to go in and at least get attempts in there and make those guys guard you."
The Bluejays were cooly efficient on offense, making 55 percent of their shots, including 8-of-18 from 3-point range, plus 28-of 34 from the charity stripe.
"They run as good as anybody we've seen," Lowery said. "They made us over-help. They do that to everybody, because if not, it's going to be a basket or a foul."
The Salukis did not shoot as well as they had in recent games, missing 40 field goal attempts, while making just 4-of-14 from outside the arc.
"You can't give those guys that many opportunities to get a rebound and go," Lowery said. "They didn't force our hand. We were able to get what we wanted. We just didn't finish enough plays off to set our defense."
T.J. Lindsay led Southern with 13 points, but the team's top marksman was 0-for-3 from 3-point.
"Our goal was to get (Kendal) Brown-Surles and Lindsay off the 3-point line and limit their catch and shots and make it tough for Seck," McDermott explained.
McDermott praised beefy center Gregory Echenique, who had nine points and 11 rebounds, for his defensive play. The coach credited him with holding SIU's leading scorer, Mamadou Seck, to 10 points.
"The most important thing he did was Seck goes 4-for-9," McDermott said. "Mamadou is one of the guys who can go crazy on you. Gregory was able to guard him without racking up a bunch of fouls."
Creighton won for the eight-straight time against Southern Illinois, and the Missouri Valley Conference standings are quickly turning into a two-horse race between the Bluejays and Wichita State, which is also 6-1.
"We've continued to grow into a more unselfish team," McDermott said. "With each passing game, guys care less about themselves and more about the team. They understand we're off to a good start on what could be a special season."
Meanwhile, the Salukis took solace in their 17 assists and season-low five turnovers. The difference in the game was clearly McDermott.
"We're not the first team he's done that to," noted Lowery.