By Shehan Jeyarajah
SAN ANTONIO — Creighton forward Doug McDermott was the leading scorer in all of college basketball this season. The Bluejays were the most efficient offensive team in basketball.
Baylor didn’t seem to care.
Junior forward Royce O’Neale, junior guard Kenny Chery and senior guard Brady Heslip combined to hit 10 of their first 10 three-pointers, Baylor (26-11, 9-9) jumped out to a 20-point lead at halftime and the Bears never looked back in a 85-55 victory over No. 16 Creighton (27-8, 14-4) to reach the Sweet 16 for the third time in five seasons.
Creighton, a team that shoots almost 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from three, was held to 40 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from three.
“I’m not sure if it was Baylor being that good or us being that bad,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Over the course of a season you’re going to have a few clunkers, and we had one at the wrong time. Once you get here, everybody’s good. You have to play well.”
Baylor focused its defensive effort on McDermott, and had tremendous results. McDermott was held to only three points in the first half, and 15 points for the night. Six of his points came with under seven minutes left and the game decided.
“Everyone was doing a tremendous job of talking on the floor and making sure we knew where [McDermott] was at all times,” sophomore center Isaiah Austin said. “When he did get a shot, we did a great job of contesting it.”
Senior power forward Cory Jefferson went to work early and scored Baylor’s first two baskets on post-ups. Creighton tried to seal off the paint, but Baylor’s shooters took advantage. After Creighton tied up the game at 7-7 with 16:31 remaining, Baylor exploded for a 19-2 run behind four straight three-pointers between junior point guard Kenny Chery, junior forward Royce O’Neale and senior guard Brady Heslip.
Creighton struggled all night with Baylor’s aggressive zone defense. The most efficient team in college basketball opened the game shooting only 4-for-14 from the field. The Bluejays, a team that shoots over 42 percent from three, missed their first seven attempts.
Chery had nine points in the first, all on three-pointers. Heslip added another two three-pointers. O’Neale quietly put up a great first half with two three-pointers, two rebounds, two steals and a game-high six assists, more than the Bluejays had as a team.
Baylor’s frontcourt of Jefferson and Austin combined for 15 points and two blocks, taking advantage of Creighton’s lack of size down low.
Creighton mustered only 38 percent shooting from the field and 1-of-9 from the three-point line. McDermott shot only 1-for-4 in the first half, including an airballed three-pointer. He did not make his first basket until a floater in the lane with 3:06 left in the first half. The Bluejays did not hit a three-pointer until 6:14 remaining in the first half. Baylor took a 40-20 advantage into the locker room after a put-back by Austin.
Creighton sharpshooter Ethan Wragge punched right back with back-to-back three pointers in the first four minutes of the second half, but Baylor’s offense was up to the job. Creighton hit four of its first six shots, but could not make a dent in the Baylor lead.
Wragge’s second three cut the lead to 19, but Baylor went on an 18-9 run capped off by a three-pointer from Heslip with 10:21 remaining in the game.
Baylor hit 10 of its first 13 shots from the field in the second half, and did not stop there. The Bears shot 64 percent in the second half compared to Creighton’s 41.9 percent. By the time the dust settled, the Bears had time to play junior forward Logan Lowery and walk-on John Heard in the 85-55 win.
Baylor shot 63.8 percent from the floor and 61.1 percent from the three-point line.
“I think as a coach you want to take good shots,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “If you take good shots, some nights they’re going to go in and some nights they’re not. We were 2 for 13 from 3 against Nebraska, and I thought we had some good looks. Today, Royce, Kenny, really did a good job, Brady, and we were just making baskets.”
Austin led the Bears with 17 points and two blocks on 7-for-11 shooting from the field. He shot 78 percent inside the three-point arc. Jefferson added 14 points on 4-for-7 inside the arc. Sophomore forward Rico Gathers grabbed nine rebounds in only 16 minutes on the floor.
McDermott finished with 15 points and only two rebounds a game after exploding for 30 points and 12 rebounds. Wragge hit two three-pointers on the night. Outside of McDermott, the Bluejays shot only 36.6 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from three.
With the win, Baylor moves on to the Sweet Sixteen for the third time in five years. The Bears will play Wisconsin at 6:47 p.m. on Thursday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The game will be televised nationally on TBS.