St. John's coach Steve Lavin knew it would be impossible to totally shut down Doug McDermott. He figured if his defense could limit McDermott's teammates, the Red Storm would have a chance to steal a win on No. 20 Creighton's home court.
Lavin was almost right.
The Red Storm erased all of an 18-point deficit in the last 12 minutes only to lose 63-60 on McDermott's 25-footer with 2.5 seconds left Tuesday night.
McDermott finished with a season-high 39 points while his teammates combined for 24.
"He's going to get his no matter what," Lavin said. "Teams have tried to defend and scheme against him, and at the end he consistently ends up with 25 or 30 points."
The two-time returning All-America carried his team to its 13th win in 14 games, keeping the Bluejays (18-3, 8-1) in first place in the Big East. St. John's (12-9, 2-6), playing in Omaha for the first time since 1966, had its three-game winning streak end.
McDermott bounced back from a tough shooting game in a win over Georgetown on Saturday to turn in one of his greatest all-around performances.
The Red Storm had just tied the game on Rysheed Jordan's two free throws before McDermott took a pass from Jahenns Manigat on the left wing. Isaiah Zierden set a screen for McDermott, and he got off his fade-away 3-pointer just as shot-blocking specialist Chris Obekpa broke through to wave a hand in his face.
"Big-time shot by a big-time player," Lavin said.
The Red Storm had a last chance to tie, but Phil Greene IV's shot at the buzzer didn't even touch the net.
It was a fitting end for McDermott, whose monster game offset an otherwise poor offensive showing by the Bluejays.
St. John's defensive strategy took Ethan Wragge out of the game. Wragge, the national 3-point leader, tied a school record with nine 3s in a 28-point win over Villanova last week.
"Last week was Ethan Wragge Week across the country," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, "so I would certainly think about doing the same thing, especially if you have the length and athletic ability that coach Lavin has. Doug hit some tough shots. As a defense, that's what you're after."
Orlando Sanchez, JaKarr Sampson and others took turns denying Wragge the ball, and the Red Storm did a good job switching defenders when the Bluejays tried to set up a screen.
Wragge's first 3-pointer came just over 5 minutes into the second half, and that was after he broke free from Sampson, who had grabbed a handful of his jersey.
McDermott had his seventh 30-point game of the season. He finished 15 of 26 from the field, including 5 of 9 on 3s. He had six rebounds, including a couple of big ones late.
The rest of the Bluejays shot 8 of 21 from the field, and the team committed 17 turnovers that St. John's converted into 21 points. The Red Storm outscored Creighton 18-0 on fast breaks.
"If you had told me we would be outscored 21-4 on points off turnovers and 18-0 on fast breaks," Greg McDermott said, "I wouldn't have thought we would have been sitting here talking about a victory."
D'Angelo Harrison scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half to lead St. John's. Obekpa and Jordan had 11 apiece and Sampson added 10.
Creighton led by 18 points with 12 minutes to play, but the Red Storm came back with runs of 11-2 and 12-2. Sampson tied it 58-all, but McDermott answered with a left-handed floater.
Austin Chatman fouled Jordan with 11.1 seconds left, and the freshman made both free throws to set up McDermott's dramatic shot.
"I'm proud of the fight and resiliency we showed coming back from 18 down," Lavin said. "That was impressive, but not enough to get over the hump. That's because we buried ourselves earlier in the game."