NEW YORK (AP) — Doug McDermott scored 32 points and second-seeded and 14th-ranked Creighton advanced to the Big East tournament championship game in its first year in the conference with an 86-78 victory over Xavier on Friday night.
The Bluejays looked to be on their way to an easy semifinal win, but Xavier used a 20-6 run to get within 77-72 with 1:23 to play and Creighton was able to seal the game by going 9 for 10 from the free throw line over the final 1:16. The only miss, by Grant Gibbs, was rebounded by Austin Chatman, at 6 foot the shortest of the Bluejays, and they were able to turn it into two points and an 80-72 lead with 58 seconds left.
The Bluejays (26-6) will face fourth-seeded Providence, one of the Big East’s original members, in the championship game Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The Friars (22-11) beat Seton Hall 80-74 in the other semifinal. This is their second championship game appearance. They won the title in 1994.
Ethan Wragge added 17 points, all but two on 3-pointers, and Chatman had 11.
Isaiah Philmore scored 23 points and Semaj Christon added 18 for third-seeded Xavier (21-12), which advanced to the semifinals in its first season in the Big East. The Musketeers beat Marquette 68-65 in the quarterfinals.
Creighton took a 45-28 lead with 1:31 left in the first half and Xavier was able to score the last five points and trailed 45-33 at halftime. The Bluejays extended the lead to 19, but a 5:24 field goal drought combined with Xavier’s suddenly aggressive play on offense had the Musketeers as close as five points on a 3-pointer by Dee Davis with 1:23 to go.
It was another night of milestones for McDermott, the nation’s leading scorer (26.5 per game), who is trying to become the 11th three-time All-America. He has 3,078 points and moved into fifth place passing Harrry “Machine Gun” Kelly of Texas Southern (3,066) and Keydren Clark of Saint Peter’s (3,058). Next up is Alfonso Ford of Mississippi Valley State (3,165).
McDermott was 10 for 20 from the field, including 2 of 6 from 3-point range, and was 10 for 10 from the free throw line. The Bluejays were 21 of 24 from the free throw line while the Musketeers were 8 of 12.
Xavier and Creighton split their two meetings in the regular season and the stars lived up to the billing in both. McDermott had 35 and 27 points, while Christon, the league’s fifth-leading scorer at 17.0 points per game, had 27 and 21. They both were unanimous first-team all-Big East selections along with Bryce Cotton of Providence.
The Bluejays led the conference in scoring (79.9), field goal percentage (49.6) and 3-point field goal percentage (42.0) and only the scoring average took a slight hit Friday night. They were 27 of 40 from the field (55.1 percent) and 11 of 25 from 3-point range (44.0 percent).