ANAHEIM, Calif. — The defense that almost saved the day for Creighton in Sunday’s game against George Washington cracked in crunch time.
The Colonials scored on their final six possessions and closed the Wooden Legacy tournament third-place game with a 10-0 run in handing the No. 20 Bluejays a 60-53 loss at the Honda Center.
With its trademark offense sputtering all game, Creighton dug in on defense in limiting George Washington to 16 points on its first 25 possessions of the second half. The Colonials missed 21 of their 29 shots from the field in the span and committed three turnovers.
But they made their last three shots and sealed their win with six straight free throws to deal Creighton its second loss of the tournament, dropping the Bluejays to 5-2.
“We defended and got ourselves back in a situation where we got the lead,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We just couldn’t quite finish it off.”
That’s because George Washington was able to match the defensive effort for an entire game that the Bluejays turned in for the final 17½ minutes. The Colonials held All-America forward Doug McDermott to seven points — his lowest output since he finished with five in the second game last season.
McDermott missed 10 of his 12 shots, including all five of his 3-point attempts. Ethan Wragge, who led Creighton with 16 points, and Jahenns Manigat were the only Bluejays who played significant minutes to make at least half of their field-goal attempts.
Creighton shot a season-low 33.9 percent from the field and converted just 7 of its 28 3-point attempts. The Bluejays also committed 13 turnovers that allowed the Colonials to build a 17-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
Still, Creighton led 53-50 with 2:15 to play when Manigat scored on a putback of a missed Wragge 3-pointer.
“We thought we had it then,” Wragge said. “Obviously, it wasn’t our best effort today, but it looked like we were going to be able to get away with a win. It just came down to those last couple of possessions really cost us.”
The Colonials got within a point when Joe McDonald scored on a layup with 1:40 to play. After Austin Chatman missed on a hard drive to the basket, George Washington took a 54-53 lead with 1:05 left when Kevin Larsen, who scored a team-high 14 points, worked free inside for a layup.
Creighton had two chances to regain the lead. Isaiah Armwood blocked Grant Gibbs’ driving attempt. Chatman came up with the rebound, but he had the ball stripped by Maurice Creek on his drive to the basket.
Chatman immediately fouled Creek, who made two free throws to put George Washington ahead 56-53 with 14 seconds to play. Creighton guard Devin Brooks was then called for a foul as he tried to get free on the inbounds play, and Kethan Savage made two free throws for a 58-53 lead.
After Wragge missed a 3-point attempt, McDonald hit two more free throws to close the win that left George Washington 6-1.
“We just couldn’t get it done there at the end,” Doug McDermott said.
He had scored 20 points or more in Creighton’s last eight games, but he never got going Sunday as George Washington switched defenses frequently to keep him and his teammates from establishing any kind of offensive rhythm.
When the Colonials did play man-to-man, it was Armwood, an athletic 6-foot-9 senior, who played the primary role in frustrating McDermott.
“It seemed like he blocked my shot every time I went to the rim,” McDermott said. “I give him a lot of the credit. He was all over the place. He was really springy, and it was hard to get him off his feet with a shot fake, and that made it even tougher.
“I tried to bring him out to the perimeter, but I couldn’t get a 3-point shot to go in. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you have a shot blocker blocking everything at the rim and you can’t get one to fall from 3.”
Armwood downplayed his own contributions in turning McDermott into a nonfactor.
“We just tried to make it tough for him, and it wasn’t just me — it was a complete team effort,” Armwood said. “He wasn’t that good off the dribble, so we just tried to limit his touches in the post and make it tough on him every time he got the ball.”
McDermott’s early struggles allowed George Washington to grab the momentum. The Colonials took their first 10-point lead with 9:23 left in the first half and had the Bluejays down 25-12 when Nemanja Mikic made a 3-point shot with 6:49 left.
Creighton managed to close within 32-24 at halftime as Wragge scored the final five points of the first half. The Bluejays also scored the first five points of the second half and came out with more fire on defense.
“We had the effort and the attention to detail to start the second half,” said Gibbs, who finished with 12 points. “But we have to have that the entire game. That’s on me, not having us ready to go, not executing the game plan from the get-go.
“We don’t have the ability to turn it off and on. We have to be prepared and dialed in for 40 minutes on that end of the floor.”
Gibbs’ dunk cut his team’s deficit to 42-41, and the Bluejays took their first lead when Wragge buried a 3-point shot with 6:21 left. Two Armwood baskets put the Colonials back in front 46-44 before a 9-4 run left Creighton holding its 53-50 lead heading down the stretch.
“We put ourselves in a good spot, but then we made a couple of key mistakes,” Gibbs said. We can’t afford those breakdowns at that point.”