WICHITA, Kan. — Creighton coach Greg McDermott believes he has a good team – a very good one. He also believes the Bluejays can be an elite team by the end of the season.
The trouble Saturday was that Creighton needed to be just a bit better than good.
Carl Hall had 17 points and 13 rebounds to help Wichita State seize control in the second half, and two missed 3-pointers by Ethan Wragge in the final seconds doomed the Bluejays to a 67-64 defeat, snapping their 11-game winning streak.
Doug McDermott had 25 points to lead Creighton (17-2, 6-1 MVC), which dropped into a first-place tie with the Shockers (17-2, 6-1) in the Missouri Valley Conference. Grant Gibbs added 14 points and eight assists, but missed an important free throw in the closing seconds of the game.
"I think we can take another step, and I think it's going to be a difficult step, because everybody is going to have to look in the mirror and squeeze every bit of energy out of our bodies to reach our potential," Greg McDermott said.
"I believe we can do that," he added. "I think there's another step this team can take to a place we're really, really going to like."
Malcolm Armstead had 15 points, including two key free throws with 15.3 seconds left, while Cleanthony Early added 13 points and Demetric Williams had 10 for the Shockers, who pushed their home-court winning streak to 17 games in front of a raucous, capacity crowd.
"It was a Valley battle against a very, very good basketball team," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Said. "I'll take it and move on, and it's a nice win for us."
Mild understatement, perhaps.
Hall gave the Shockers a 65-63 lead when he made the second of two free throws with 48.3 seconds left, but Gibbs – a 67 percent free throw shooter – only made one of two with 25.3 seconds to go, allowing the Shockers to cling to a lead and forcing Creighton to foul.
Anthony's two free throws restored a three-point lead, but Wragge mis-fired from the corner and then got another chance at the buzzer, this time clanking the 3 off the rim.
When the crowd erupted, it was clear it was a bit more than just a "nice win."
"We didn't let them separate. That's the thing," said Marshall, whose team would have fallen two games back in the Valley race with a loss. "They're a very good team and they have a great chance to be right there at the end."
It was little surprise that a game between last season's regular-season champion, Wichita State, and tournament champion Creighton would come down to the wire. They have played 29 games decided by 12 or fewer points since 1994-95.
"They killed us on the boards, especially in the first half," Doug McDermott said. "It's tough to win games if you're going to give them 22 offensive rebounds."
Hall had six of them in his second game back from a thumb injury.
The senior forward at one point scored six straight points in the first half. Later, he missed two layups and got two offensive boards before finally scoring for a 25-19 lead.
Hall was also doing his duty on defense, one of several defenders put on McDermott.
"He was ready to play today," Doug McDermott said. "That's his game, crashing the boards and using his athleticism and toughness. We just have to do a better job on him next time."
After scoring 39 points against Missouri State and 31 in a win over Northern Iowa, he struggled just to find enough space to put up a shot. McDermott was 3 of 8 from the field before a buzzer-beating 3-pointer pulled the Bluejays within 36-33 at halftime.
Creighton tied the game 38-all early in the first half, only for the Shockers to put together a quick run. Early poured in a 3-pointer and then popped a jumper right over McDermott, helping the Shockers extend their lead to 49-42 with 15:15 left in the game.
That's when Creighton's run finally happened.
McDermott's basket and an open 3-pointer by Gibbs helped to trigger a 10-2 charge, and a jumper by Austin Chatman gave the Bluejays their first lead at 52-51 with 11:28 left.
The Shockers refused to give in, and a flagrant foul on Gibbs sent Tekele Cotton to the free throw line and helped Wichita State pull back ahead.
The Bluejays got within 64-63 when they took advantage of a 5-on-4 situation with Early, who had landed hard and hit his head, still rolling around under the other basket. McDermott scored with a baseline jumper with 2:17 left in the game.
It was the last basket he would make in the game, though.
"We knew what was at stake," Greg McDermott said, "and the position it would put us in if we won, but we also knew what it would take to win, and we failed in some of those areas."