Creighton blew its chance at a Big East regular-season title due to a late stumble. But the Blue Jays can still claim a third straight tournament title for the first time in school history, though this one will be contested in a new environment.
The 14th-ranked Bluejays make their Big East tournament debut Thursday night when they take on DePaul at Madison Square Garden.
Creighton (24-6) held the tiebreaker for first place in the Big East over No. 3 Villanova by virtue of sweeping the season series with the Wildcats. But the Bluejays opened March with consecutive losses at Xavier and Georgetown, squandering an opportunity to finish first in their inaugural season in the conference.
They bounced back to close the regular season with an 88-73 home win over Providence on Saturday with Doug McDermott scoring a career-high 45 points and becoming the eighth player in Division-I history to score more than 3,000. He passed Hersey Hawkins and Oscar Robertson to move to seventh all-time on the career scoring list. His 3,011 points trail Saint Peter’s Keydren Clark (3,058) for sixth.
McDermott, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week and was a unanimous choice as the Big East player of the year, is averaging 30.9 points over his last 10 contests while shooting 57.0 percent.
The nation’s leading scorer (26.5 ppg) will be hoping for a better outcome than his team’s last trip to Madison Square Garden, a 70-65 loss at St. John’s on Feb. 9.
"We played there once and we didn’t have a good result," said McDermott, who earned first-team all-conference honors for a fourth straight season. "So we’re glad we got our feet wet and got a chance to play there. It’s probably going to be a much different experience now that we’re playing there for a second time."
Friday’s winner will take on either third-seeded Xavier or No. 6 Marquette on Friday. Creighton is three victories shy of claiming its third straight conference tournament after winning each of the last two in the Missouri Valley. The Bluejays have won eight of their last 15 conference tournaments.
Creighton took both regular-season matchups with DePaul, with McDermott scoring 32 in a 78-66 home win on Feb. 7. He was held relatively in check with 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting in an 81-62 road win on Jan. 7, but Creighton was 11 of 21 from deep.
The Blue Demons (12-20), which finished last in the Big East with a 3-15 league record, are fresh off their second-ever Big East tournament win and first since 2009. They lost 12 of 13 to close the regular season, including a 33-point home loss to Butler in last week’s finale, before Wednesday’s stunning 60-56 victory over seventh-seeded Georgetown.
Forrest Robinson – who had combined for 15 points over his previous four contests – scored 14 and was 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
"We’ve been talking about March and what opportunities lie in March for a couple weeks now, and I think our guys internalized that," coach Oliver Purnell said. "But certainly that could have gotten washed away when we didn’t play so well in our last game."
DePaul, which ended a 14-game losing streak against Georgetown, has dropped four straight to Creighton since a 72-57 victory on Nov. 30, 2005.