Doug McDermott showed up at the CenturyLink Center on Tuesday night intent on righting what his mind told him was a wrong.
In his previous game, McDermott had scored 14 points in helping lead Creighton to a historic victory over Georgetown. He came away upset with his performance, characterizing the effort as lazy and lacking energy.
“I didn't play my best basketball against Georgetown,” McDermott said after Wednesday's practice. “I had to look myself in the mirror and step up for the St. John's game. The fans don't deserve that lazy kind of effort from me.”
McDermott paid back the fans with a performance for the ages against St. John's. With the Red Storm locking down on his teammates, the two-time All-American stepped up with a 39-point performance that he capped with a game-winning 3-point basket with 2.5 seconds to play.
McDermott's shot gave the Bluejays a 63-60 victory and enabled them to finish the first half of their first Big East season assured of no worse than a tie for first place. That's what McDermott valued most about his performance, that it kept his team on track to reach its goals.
Others saw the performance in a different light. McDermott's play in Creighton's first 20 games had allowed him to emerge as the front-runner for college basketball's player of the year awards.
His virtuoso effort in game No. 21 had many observers proclaiming the race was over as soon as McDermott's shot dropped through the net. Longtime ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale tweeted: “McDermott=PLAYER OF THE YEAR.” Gary Parrish of CBS Sports proclaimed: “Not even close, at this point. Doug McDermott is running away with the award.”
Like most young people, McDermott is well connected to the social media world. Those messages, and many others like them, blew up his phone immediately after the game.
McDermott has long maintained that chasing individual awards is not what drives him. He repeated that sentiment Wednesday when asked if he thought the race was over.
“They've been saying that for a couple of weeks,” McDermott said. “It's not really a distraction to me. It's more a motivation because I know I'm going to be a bigger target for every opponent. They're grinding their teeth to play against me and our team.
“If anything, all of this has gotten me to work harder in practice. All eyes are on me, and everyone is saying it's me and everyone else is going for second. It's hard to stay focused at times. I know I'm in a good spot, but for me, it's not about the national player of the year. It's about getting this team as far as we can go.”
Those words pretty much echo what his father said when asked Tuesday night whether his son had clinched the player of the year award with his performance against the Red Storm. Wednesday, Greg McDermott admitted that having his son claim prestigious national honors after the season would be “great for our institution and our program.”
“But whether he wins it or not, what he has accomplished as an individual along with our team success has been equally helpful to our program,” Greg McDermott said. “Whether he finishes first or third in the player of the year voting, it's not going to take away from his accomplishments.”
Doug McDermott said making the game-winning shot in front of a sellout crowd at home provided him with one of his greatest on-court moments. The shot he hit completed a play similar to the one that Kansas used to win the 2008 national championship when Mario Chalmers made a 3-point basket with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Creighton's play featured point guard Austin Chatman taking an inbounds pass from Ethan Wragge and pushing it up the court. Chatman handed the ball off to Jahenns Manigat, who slipped behind a screen and found McDermott, coming off a screen from Isaiah Zierden, open about 25 feet from the basket. Like Chalmers, McDermott buried the shot.
Greg McDermott smiled when asked Wednesday if he had heard from Kansas coach Bill Self about “stealing” the game-winning play from him.
“I stole it from him,” the coach said, “and he stole it from someone else.”
The dramatic finish left father and son unable to get much sleep. Doug said he was still up at 4 a.m., answering texts — some from his father — and just relishing the moment.
“After a game like that, it's not uncommon for me to have trouble sleeping,” Doug McDermott said. “I usually take a pretty heavy nap before the game, so it's hard to sleep in general.
“It's even harder when all my family and friends are reaching out to me and I have to respond to them. It's a good reason not to be able to sleep.”
The way this season has developed for Creighton has left McDermott convinced that he made the right decision last spring to return for his senior season. If nothing else, he said, Tuesday just reinforced those feelings.
“That Wichita game last year was pretty special,” said McDermott, referring to his 41-point effort that helped Creighton claim its last Missouri Valley regular-season championship. “But in the back of my mind, I thought maybe I would be leaving.
“This is a little different, knowing that I had a chance to hit a game-winner on our home floor in front of 18,000 fans. It was just an incredible moment that I'll never forget.”
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Video: See Doug McDermott discuss his game-winning shot:
Video: CU coach Greg McDermott speaks to the media after the win:
Video: St. John's coach Steve Lavin after the game:
Video: Highlights from Creighton's win over St. John's: