It was supposed to be a rout.
It was supposed to be a bounce-back win for a No. 20 Creighton team that was predicted to win the Wooden Legacy.
It was supposed to be nothing more than an unexpected non-conference matchup that would bolster the Colonials’ strength of schedule.
Instead, it was the biggest win for GW basketball in almost a decade – the Colonials’ first win over a ranked opponent since 2005.
The 60-53 upset should inject even more confidence into the 6-1, well-balanced Colonials team that still has plenty of tests ahead. The win also sealed a third-place finish in the Wooden Legacy tournament after GW beat Miami on Thanksgiving Day.
Creighton forward Doug McDermott sat on the sidelines, his head in a towel, as sophomore guard Joe McDonald sank two free throws to put the game out of reach in the final seconds. It was a more than frustrating night for the All-American McDermott, who scored just seven points on 2-12 shooting, well below his season average of 27.8 points per game.
Senior forward Isaiah Armwood was kryponite to McDermott’s shooting. All night long, Armwood hounded McDermott with sound defense, battling him in the post and not allowing him to hit a field goal in the entire second half. Armwood would finish the night with 12 points, but his biggest numbers were his four blocks and zero fouls.
“We talked about doubling him [McDermott], but we figured that’s probably why they make their threes, so we tried to mix it up,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We doubled him sometimes with McDonald, we let Isaiah play him straight up and then we played 1-3-1 to try to pack it around him if he got the ball. And Isaiah didn’t get in foul trouble which was our biggest fear.”
Lonergan’s decisions proved masterful, keeping the Bluejays offense off-balance all night by switching in-and-out of man and zone defense. Creighton would shoot just 33.9 percent on the night, while turning the ball over 13 times.
Sophomore forward Kevin Larsen also awakened from an offensive hibernation, leading the Colonials with 14 points and six rebounds. It was Larsen’s tricky up-and-under basket with less than a minute left that gave GW its final lead.
He proved to be the spark to a Colonials offense that completely reversed its play from Friday, when they shot 33 percent from the field and 21 percent from the three against Marquette. GW would shoot 44 percent from behind the arc Sunday, jumping out to as big as a 13-point lead in the first half.
Four Colonials, including Larsen and Armwood, would finish in double figures, with McDonald and sophomore guard Kethan Savage finishing with 12 and 10 points, respectively. GW’s offense, which went stale at times in the second half, was fluid and effortless in the first half. The Colonials would finish the night with 15 assists, a testament to the team’s strong ball movement and selflessness.
Larsen had the unfortunate task on defense of guarding the sharp-shooting Ethan Wragge. A perimeter big man, who shoots 95 percent of his shots from behind the arc, was the surprising Colonial killer, leading the Bluejays with 16 points off the bench. His three-pointer with 6:16 left in the second half gave Creighton its first lead of the entire game – a lead they wouldn’t be able to hold onto, though.
Six consecutive points from Armwood, a huge defensive strip from McDonald and six straight free throws from a Colonials team that has struggled at the line all year and that was it. The Colonials shocked the Bluejays.
“There were two teams that wanted a win badly today, so it was low scoring, but it was definitely a high-level game, kind of like a heavyweight fight,” Lonergan said. “Two teams banging eachother in a defensive battle.”