MILWAUKEE — Doug McDermott left the Bradley Center on Wednesday night having provided more evidence as to why he is the leading, and perhaps only, candidate for college basketball's player of the year award.
But he was more thrilled that Creighton showed it intends to fight for a Big East championship until the final bell with a hard-earned 85-70 victory over Marquette before an announced crowd of 15,539.
The Golden Eagles, who haven't lived up to preseason expectations that they were the Big East favorites, are still a tough out on their home court. But the Bluejays withstood Marquette's best punch to win a physical game slowed by 52 fouls called on the two teams.
“They're a tough team, and Buzz Williams is an unbelievable coach,” McDermott said. “They just don't go away, and that makes this a huge win that says a lot about ourselves and how we've grown over the last couple of years.
“Not a lot of people can beat Marquette twice.”
Creighton picked up a relatively easy win over the Golden Eagles in its Big East debut on New Year's Eve. The degree of difficulty of Wednesday's win was much higher: Marquette, winner of three straight, is trying to win its way back into NCAA tournament consideration.
But when the Golden Eagles made their last charge, Creighton played with the poise of the veteran team that it is and never lost control. After Marquette had trimmed a 12-point lead to 64-59 and appeared to have the momentum with eight minutes to play, Creighton responded with a back-breaking 15-3 run that sealed the outcome.
“Composure was kind of our word for tonight,” said Creighton forward Ethan Wragge, who finally found some room to shoot and responded with a 22-point night. “We knew we could fold to the refs, to the crowd, to the missed shots.
“I think that showed a lot of maturity from our team.”
McDermott, who scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half, opened Creighton's final counterpunch by burying a 3-point attempt as the shot clock neared zero to put his team ahead 67-59 with 6:53 to play.
The basket also allowed McDermott to pass Elvin Hayes and moved into 11th place on the NCAA's all-time scoring chart. McDermott worked free on the Bluejays' next possession for a layup, and Austin Chatman delivered his biggest shot of the night two possessions later with a 3-pointer.
A McDermott jumper was followed by Wragge's 3-point basket, and Chatman capped the decisive spurt with a layup that gave Creighton a 79-62 lead with 3:31 remaining.
“Shortly after the under-eight timeout, we had brought it within five,” Williams said. “Then they go on that run, with 3 (McDermott) starting it with a shot from 23, 24 feet with the shot clock going off.
“They keep you stressed. They're really good. All credit to them because they beat us straight up.”
Afterward, Williams sounded a lot like most coaches who have tried to neutralize Creighton's offensive efficiency. In other words, he had no answers.
“They are really talented offensively,” Williams said. “They spread you out and put you in a lot of positions where you have to just pick your poison, whatever that may be.
“We tried a lot of different things and we weren't very successful at many. That's a really good offense and subpar defense as it relates to us giving ourselves a chance to win.”
Marquette, which dipped to 15-11 and 7-6 in the Big East, got 13 points from Todd Mayo and 11 from Deonte Burton. The Golden Eagles stayed close in the second half by shooting 50 percent from the field and finished even in the rebounding battle with the Bluejays.
But they also missed 16 of 36 free throws and never led after the first five minutes of the game.
Creighton shot 62.2 percent from the field and knocked down 12 of its 23 attempts (52.2 percent) from beyond the arc. Wragge, who had scored 13 points in his last three games, had 12 at halftime as he made his first four 3-point shots, several of which came in transition.
“Ethan has remained patient as teams have done a lot of things to take him away,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “His teammates have been the recipients of teams standing so close to Ethan that it opens things up for other guys.
“He's stayed with it and kept working in practice. We're fortunate to have a group of guys that don't really care about their own stats. They care about winning, and if we can continue to do that, I like our chances.”
The victory allowed Creighton to step back ahead of Villanova in the race for the Big East title. The Bluejays improved to 22-4 overall and 12-2 in the league, taking a half-game lead on the Wildcats.
Wragge's 22-point game was his second-most productive of the season, ranking behind the career-high 27 points he scored when he made a program-record-tying nine 3-point shots in the Jan. 20 win over Villanova. He finished 6 of 8 from beyond the arc on Wednesday and made all four of his free throws.
Jahenns Manigat, who also has found opposing defenses ratcheting up their pressure on him, made three 3-pointers to finish with nine points. Chatman, who played only 20 minutes because of foul trouble, had 10 points, while backup Devin Brooks contributed eight points, six rebounds and three assists without a turnover.
“This is a great win for our program,” Greg McDermott said. “Obviously, we're trying to win a championship and it's really hard to win on the road in this league. For us to come in here and get a victory, we're thrilled.”
Video: Creighton coach Greg McDermott after the game: