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FULLERTON, Calif. – Having a 5-0 record and Top 25 ranking doesn't mean all is well for your basketball team.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott is hoping that his players will learn that lesson after Friday night's 86-80 loss to San Diego State in the semifinals of the Wooden Legacy at Cal State Fullerton.
The 20th-ranked Bluejays (5-1) were on the front end of a 19-7 run to start the game before things fell apart.
"I think it'll teach us a lot," McDermott said. "There will be some things we learn, like which guys, which lineup will be most effective against some of the defenses that we're seeing."
Senior Doug McDermott, the coach's son, connected on his first six shots, including three consecutive 3-pointers during that early run. But the nation's top scorer among returning players missed his next 11 field-goal attempts and San Diego State stormed back with a 31-9 run to pull ahead 38-28 with 2:03 left in the half.
The Aztecs' run brought some relief to San Diego State coach Steve Fisher.
"I'm glad they didn't have the mercy rule in the first five minutes of the game, the way they started out with us," Fisher said. "They looked super. That's a really good team that we played. They fought and competed and made plays."
San Diego State simply fought harder and made more plays. They were also the more physical team.
Xavier Thames scored six of his 26 points in the final 1:18 for the Aztecs, J.J. O'Brien had 15 points and seven rebounds, and San Diego State overcame 30 points by McDermott.
Winston Shepard added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Aztecs (4-1).
Ethan Wragge had 15 points for Creighton (5-1).
After scoring 16 of the Bluejays' first 19 points, McDermott went cold. He finally ended his shooting drought with a jumper with less than 2 minutes in the second half, but the Aztecs responded with a 10-0 run helped by a pair of costly Creighton turnovers and grabbed a 51-32 lead, their biggest of the game.
"We started pressing more and we wanted to make McDermott bring it up the court to tire him out some and make him work a little harder," Shepard said. "I think that had an effect on his legs when he shot."
Matt Shrigley converted his steal of a hurried inbounds pass by Austin Chatman into a fast-break layup at the other end, and Shepard made another fast-break layup after intercepting a pass as the Bluejays tried to push the ball up court.
Creighton closed to 51-42 with a jumper by Devin Brooks, a layup by McDermott and a 3-pointer by Wragge with 13:13 to play. Dwayne Polee II answered with a 3-pointer and Thames followed with a short jumper that restored San Diego State's double-digit advantage, but McDermott and hit back-to-back 3s 31 seconds apart, slicing Creighton's deficit to 58-50 with 10:28 to play.
Shrigley stole another inbounds pass, this one by McDermott under the Aztecs' basket, leading to a pair of free throws by O'Brien that gave San Diego State a 66-53 cushion with 7:23 remaining.
The Bluejays had one more rally in them, narrowing the gap to 70-65 on a pair of layups by Grant Gibbs and a 3-pointer by Wragge, who has taken 35 of his 36 shots this season from behind the arc. Brooks' layup made it 75-72 with 1:48 remaining, but Thames helped put the game out of reach with a clutch 3.
"San Diego State is a heck of a basketball team," Greg McDermott said. "They were more physical than we were. To their credit, we came out and threw the first punch and we couldn't knock them down.
"They came storming back, mainly on the offensive glass. I'm proud of my team for not quitting, but I'm disappointed at what transpired for us to get down."
Ill-advised, cross-court passes was only one of Creighton's problems. The Bluejays also had trouble dealing with a team that is not afraid to drive to the basket and many times ended up on the free throw line. The Aztecs made 31 free throws against the Bluejays, converting 26. Creighton took 11 free throws.
"I think we have the ability to get into traffic and either finish or get to the free-throw line," Fisher said. "We made some baskets. If you watched us in practice or in our earlier games, sometimes we've had a hard time making open shots. When we make open shots, we're very good.
"We do some things to make it hard on people. Sometimes we do some things to make things hard on ourselves."
Thames led the Aztecs to a 40-30 halftime lead with 13 points, while their bench outscored Creighton's reserves 11-0. The Bluejays were just 5 for 14 from 3-point range before intermission and for the first time this season failed to score at least 40 points in a half.