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INDIANAPOLIS – Coach Brandon Miller gave his team a simple mission Thursday night: Get back to playing Butler basketball.
He wanted to see passion, he wanted his players to take care of the basketball and defend like they did during two NCAA tournament runs to the national championship game.
It worked until Doug McDermott made a 3-pointer with 47.8 seconds left, wiping out Butler's one-point lead and sending No. 18 Creighton a 68-63 victory over the pesky Bulldogs.
"We played basketball tonight the way Butler basketball is supposed to be played," Miller said. "I think we took a step forward tonight. We got better."
That might not be enough to satisfy a fan base that has now seen the Bulldogs (12-13, 2-11 Big East) lose four straight and six home games this season — four in the last minute of regulation or overtime.
But compared to the game tape Miller and the players spent the last 48 hours dissecting, a 64-50 loss to Xavier that was much worse than the score, this was a welcome respite.
Kellen Dunham, who scored a season-low two points on Tuesday, finished with 16 and had a chance to force overtime with a 3-pointer in the closing seconds. It bounced off the front of the rim.
Alex Barlow finished with 13 points and freshman Andrew Chrabascz added 10, though he missed two opportunities to give Butler a lead in the final 40 seconds. Both times he appeared to lose the ball going up for shoots after driving the middle.
"I thought we played pretty well," Dunham said.
Creighton just started faster and finished stronger.
McDermott finished with 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting, passing Allan Houston and Kevin Bradshaw on the NCAA's career scoring list. He's now 15th all-time with 2,824 points. But no shot was bigger than the one he thought was off the mark.
"I didn't think I made it at all," McDermott said. "I was really surprised when it went in."
Those are not words usually uttered by the nation's No. 2 scorer. But after a back-and-forth second half, it was the simple truth.
But it wasn't quite the same team the Bluejays (20-4, 10-2 expected) dominated in Omaha a month ago, when Creighton rolled to a 28-point victory.
This time, the feisty Bulldogs figured out a way to slow McDermott after he scored 11 of the Bluejays' first 13 points and the 3-point shooters who normally complement McDermott when he can't get free.
And, for a change, the Bluejays won this one the blue-collar way.
"It's really good for us because we had to grind one out," said coach Greg McDermott, Doug's father. "We had a chance at St. John's (Sunday) and we didn't get it done. Tonight, Doug hit the 3 that he missed the other night and we made the free throws that we missed the other night."
McDermott had plenty of help.
Will Artino scored 11 points off the bench, Jahenns Manigat and Austin Chatman added nine apiece, and the Bluejays played one of the league's most rugged rebounding teams to a virtual draw (32-30).
Creighton has won five of six and 15 of 17. It has won 20 games in 15 of the last 16 seasons and 10 conference games in 18 straight seasons, and they have no quibble with how they got this one.
"This is a really good win for us," Greg McDermott said. "Butler played their tails off."
For the Bulldogs (12-13, 2-11), it was better.
But on paper, it still had a tinge of ugliness because Butler missed so many chances.
Chrabascz's 3 tied the score at 61 with 4 minutes left, but both teams struggled to get open looks the rest of the way.
Khyle Marshall ended the scoring drought by making two free throws with 1:13 to go.
That's when McDermott & Co. seized control.
Rather than call a timeout, the Creighton coach let his team continue to play and eventually they got the ball to McDermott, of course, who made a shot he thought was off the mark.
The Bulldogs then called timeout, set up a play for Chrabascz, who drove into the middle and drew contact though no foul was called. A fortunate bounce gave the ball right back to Butler and Chrabascz tried to do the same — getting the same result.
Creighton then made two free throws, grabbed the rebound off Dunham's missed 3 and sealed it with two more free throws.
"They're all scorers, they're all trying to score on you, so we tried to take that away and get back in transition," Dunham said. "Creighton is just a really good team."