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No. 3 Creighton sloughs off UL-Lafayette, McDermott moves up NCAA scoring list

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For about fourteen minutes in the second half against Louisiana-Lafayette, Creighton’s Doug McDermott did not score a basket. It seems incredible that a player nicknamed ‘Dougie McBuckets’ would be held scoreless for that long a time-frame, but ULL decided the way to stop the Bluejays’ insanely efficient offense was to concentrate on McDermott and allow his teammates to carry the team’s offensive load. It somewhat worked — with about twelve minutes remaining in the game, ULL led 50-46 — but McDermott was able to operate within the different defensive looks engineered to stop him, finish the game with 30 points, and help Creighton win their opening round game, 76-66.

This win is significant for two reasons. One, McDermott is always options 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d on any scouting report, but UL-Lafayette attempted a strategy many others have tried (but few succeeded) against CU this season: plug the paint, shrink the halfcourt, and make the other Bluejays score. ULL began their run while McDermott was in the midst of his scoring drought, and CU struggled to find offensive rhythm among the other four players on the court.

But then Ethan Wragge erupted — the sharpshooting forward shot four of eight from beyond the arc (he made three in a row at one point in the final twenty minutes), and his scoring presence infused the other Bluejays with a sense of relief. It was noticeable how much freer the rest of the team played once Wragge began connecting from deep.

We must note that McDermott is now fifth all-time on the NCAA’s career scoring list, passing Harry ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly of Texas Southern to enter the top five. To reach the top spot, and bypass Pete Maravich, McDermott now has to average 112 points per game (and win the national title).

The second reason this first round win is crucial is that the team succeeded when their shooting was well-off. The squad made 61.2 percent of their twos and 39.1 percent of their threes — both outstanding percentages for any team not named Creighton — but there were times when CU appeared stagnant and struggled to connect, yet they somehow managed to weather ULL’s shifting defense and win.

Although his road to Arlington has been derailed, the loss gave the nation a chance to watch ULL guard Elfrid Payton, a player who was on the U19 team last summer but who is still somehow unknown. Payton’s defense on McDermott managed to slow the forward a bit, and while he was pressing to keep his team in the contest — both Shawn Long and Bryant Mbamalu were either in foul trouble (Long) or not find the bucket (Mbamalu) — he still finished with 24 points.

Creighton next takes on Baylor, a game that should be an interesting match-up for the ‘Jays. Baylor’s zone will likely be easily disassembled by the constantly moving Creighton offense, so does Scott Drew stick with zone? Or does he alternate man and zone? Another intriguing subplot is Creighton’s struggles on the defensive glass. They managed to grab 83.7 percent of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ misses, but ULL was able to secure some crucial additional possessions. Baylor is one of the nation’s best on the offensive glass, and that will likely be a focal point of their gameplan against Creighton.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.