PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With Cincinnati unable to get to the free-throw line, Shaquille Thomas took a trip the hard way.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott was double-teamed in the corner and swung his left elbow into Thomas’ face to break free with 53 seconds left. McDermott was whistled for a flagrant foul and Thomas went to the line.
Make both, and the Bearcats would trail by one. He clanked two instead.
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McDermott had 27 points and 11 rebounds, and Gregory Echenique scored 13 points to help Creighton hold on to beat Cincinnati 67-63 on Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament’s Midwest Regional.
“They would have made a huge difference if he made both but he missed both,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said. “It would have been a whole different ball game.”
The misses stung because Cashmere Wright buried a 3 on the ensuing possession to make it 60-57. Cincinnati just couldn’t get to the line.
Led by McDermott’s 11 of 11 effort, the Bluejays made 22 of 25 free throws. The Bearcats made only 4 of 9, and that doomed them down the stretch.
“The foul line let us down at the end of the day,” Cronin said.
The loss was Cincinnati’s farewell to the Big East. Cincinnati is staying behind in the football-based, soon-to-be-former Big East.
The Bluejays (28-7) moved on to the third round for the second straight season. They were eliminated last year by North Carolina at that point. Now, the ACC stands in their way again.
“We’ve been shooting for this game for a year, wanting to get back to have an opportunity to play to get into the Sweet 16,” coach Greg McDermott said.
Gregory Echenique scored 13 points and Ethan Wragge added 12 for the Bluejays, who overcame 30 percent shooting in the second half.
Sean Kilpatrick’s driving layup after Cincinnati had the arrow on a jump ball cut it to 64-63 with 17 seconds left.
Austin Chatman sank two free throws for Creighton. Kilpatrick’s attempt at a tying 3 rimmed out, and the Bearcats were whistled for traveling after grabbing the rebound.
Chatman then hit one of two from the line to clinch it.
The fans waving Creighton flags behind the bench can bring them back Sunday.
McDermott has said he’ll wait until after the season to decide if he’ll return for his senior year. He’s projected as a late first- or early second-round pick and could probably boost his stock with a strong season against tougher teams in a new-look Big East.
“All I’m on focused on right now is just trying to get as far as we can and that decision will come later,” McDermott said. “But I feel like it definitely does play a part in it.”
The Bluejays could never put away the 10th-seeded Bearcats (22-12) in their camouflage-patterned shorts.
Echenique snapped a tie with a layup and McDermott hit two from the free-throw line to help the Bluejays keep the lead over the final 3 minutes.
For all their offensive woes, the Bearcats stayed close and never trailed by more than eight in the second half. Wright hit a 3 — Cincinnati’s fourth on 15 attempts — to slice it to 52-49.
McDermott had a rare miss inside and showed some visible frustration, clapping his hands trying to rally the Bluejays. Kilpatrick hit two free throws to pull the Bearcats within two. He sank consecutive jumpers to tie the game at 54-54 with 3:33 left.
That was pretty much all the Bearcats had left, and they’re heading home a year after reaching the round of 16. Except for a 5-minute spurt midway through the second half to help them tie the game, they couldn’t buy a basket.
Kilpatrick scored 19 points and Wright hit three 3s and had 15.
The Bearcats struggled to score all season and had little production after Wright hit two quick 3s to open the game. Each team made 12 shots in the half. The difference was in efficiency. The Bearcats were 12 of 33 while Creighton was 12 of 19. The Bearcats even forced 10 turnovers and it still wasn’t enough.
McDermott had a quiet half until the final minutes. He hit his first 3-pointer, then got the ball in the low post and twirled around for a layup. He sank the free throw to complete the three-point play to send the Bluejays into halftime with a 32-27 lead.
“There aren’t many 6-8 guys who can do everything but he’s in the post and out shooting 3s,” Kilpatrick said.
And he gets to do it all for at least one more game.