INDIANAPOLIS — Somehow Doug McDermott seems to make all those big shots — even when they don’t feel right.
On Thursday, one of college basketball’s most prolific scorers surprised himself by making a 3-pointer with 47.8 seconds to go Thursday night that sent No. 18 Creighton past pesky Butler for a 68-63 victory that helped them keep pace with Big East leader Villanova.
"I didn’t think I made it all," McDermott said. "I was really surprised when it went in."
Those are not words usually uttered by the nation’s No. 2 scorer. But after a back-and-forth second half, it was the simple truth.
McDermott finished with 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting, passing Allan Houston and Kevin Bradshaw on the NCAA’s career scoring list. He’s now 15th all-time with 2,824 points.
But it wasn’t quite the same team the Bluejays (20-4, 10-2 expected) dominated a month ago in Omaha. Creighton rolled to a 28-point victory back then.
This time, the feisty Bulldogs figured out a way to slow McDermott after he scored 11 of the Bluejays’ first 13 points and the 3-point shooters who normally complement McDermott when he can’t get free.
And, for a change, the Bluejays won this one the blue-collar way.
"It’s really good for us because we had to grind one out," said coach Greg McDermott, Doug’s father. "We had a chance at St. John’s (Sunday) and we didn’t get it done. Tonight, Doug hit the 3 that he missed the other night and we made the free throws that we missed the other night."
McDermott had plenty of help.
Will Artino scored 11 points off the bench, Jahenns Manigat and Austin Chatman added nine apiece, and the Bluejays played one of the league’s most rugged rebounding teams to a virtual draw (32-30).
Creighton has won five of six and 15 of 17. It has won 20 games in 15 of the last 16 seasons and 10 conference games in 18 straight seasons, and they have no quibble with how they got this one.
"This is a really good win for us," Greg McDermott said. "Butler played their tails off."
For the Bulldogs (12-13, 2-11), it was more of the same.
They’ve lost four straight, haven’t won at home since Jan. 18 and have dropped six home games — four in the final minute or overtime.
But they did get back to playing their usual brand of basketball after getting blown out 48 hours earlier by Xavier. That provided some inspiration inside the locker room after the players met informally between the two games.
"We played basketball the way Butler basketball teams are supposed to play," coach Brandon Miller said. "I think we took a step forward tonight. We got better."
On paper, it still had a tinge of ugliness.
Top scorer Kellen Dunham had 16 points but a 3 in the closing seconds that could have forced overtime bounced off the front of the rim. Alex Barlow added 13 points, and Andrew Chrabascz, who finished with 10 points, appeared to twice lose the ball going up for shots in the final 40 seconds that would have given Butler the lead.
The Bulldogs had plenty of chances.
Chrabascz’s 3 tied the score at 61 with 4 minutes left, but both teams struggled to get open looks the rest of the way.
Khyle Marshall finally ended the scoring drought by making two free throws with 1:13 to go.
That’s when McDermott & Co. seized control.
Rather than call a timeout, the Creighton coach let his team continue to play and eventually they got the ball to McDermott, of course, who made a shot he thought was off the mark.
"We have a lot of guys on our team capable of making big plays," he said. "We look for me first, but it makes it really easy on me."
The Bulldogs then called timeout, set up a play for Chrabascz, who drove into the middle and drew contact though no foul was called. A fortunate bounce gave the ball right back to Butler and Chrabascz tried to do the same — getting the same result.
Creighton then made two free throws, grabbed the rebound off Dunham’s missed 3 and sealed it with two more free throws.
"They’re all scorers, they’re all trying to score on you, so we tried to take that away and get back in transition," Dunham said. "Creighton is just a really good team."