National player of the year favorite Doug McDermott practically beat St. John's by himself when they met in Omaha. He scored 39 points, including the game-winning three-pointer. And he was in the process of delivering an encore performance when he scored his 25th point on a layup that gave Creighton a two-point lead with 8:41 remaining Sunday night at the Garden.
But that not only was the last point McDermott scored, it was the last shot he got up. JaKarr Sampson won a hand-to-hand battle with the Bluejays star down the stretch and D'Angelo Harrison scored the final eight points for the Red Storm in a 70-65 breakthrough victory over the No. 12 team in the country.
"Their length and athleticism distracts you," said McDermott, who is no shrinking violet at 6-8 and 225 pounds. "It feels like they can contest every shot with their long wingspan . . . They did a great job of taking me away. I thought they did a great job of switching whenever I came off screens. They were a lot more disciplined down the stretch."
A game that was played at a run-and-gun tempo in the first half turned into a physical defensive battle in the second. Without McDermott's scoring touch, the Bluejays (19-4, 9-2 Big East) had to rely on Grant Gibbs (12 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) and Austin Chatman (10 points), and that wasn't enough.
St. John's (15-9, 5-6), which won for the sixth time in the past seven games, had five players with at least eight points, topped by Harrison with 19 and Chris Obekpa with 11. Harrison's left-wing three-pointer gave St. John's a 65-63 lead with 2:08 left.
"The big shot came from a big player," said Sir'Dominic Pointer, who had nine points and played a key defensive role. "I was on the bench, and I said, 'This one is going up, and it's going in.' They backed off, and it went straight in."
Pointer was on the court in the final minute when the Bluejays managed to get the ball to McDermott on the baseline with Sampson behind him. Pointer dropped down and forced a pass out to Jahenns Manigat, who missed a three-pointer.
"I took a chance," Pointer said. "I said, 'McDermott beat us last time, let somebody else beat us this time.' "
Sampson, who had eight points, sacrificed his offense to guard McDermott and played the last 2:18 with four fouls. "My mind-set was to focus on defense," Sampson said. "He still ended up with 25, but I felt I did a good job holding him to his average."
St. John's got off to one of its trademark slow starts, falling behind 12-5 as the Bluejays made their first five shots. McDermott had 10 of Creighton's first 20 points.
But Pointer came off the bench to slow down McDermott and contribute offensively, dunking and converting a free throw to tie the score at 22.
A three-pointer by Phil Greene gave the Red Storm its first lead at 29-26, and St. John's extended it to a high of 40-33 just before halftime.
After blowing chances to beat several ranked teams earlier this season, the Red Storm didn't let this one get away.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott acknowledged the defensive job St. John's did on his son, adding, "They're playing as well as anyone in the league right now."