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Jays show backbone in signature win

SAN DIEGO -- Greg McDermott thinks you’re crazy. You, the Creighton fans who never gave up hope that, despite being down 17 points in the first half to the San Diego State Aztecs, the 22nd-ranked Bluejays would come back and find a way to win.

“If you told me we were going to be down 17, I would have told you you’re crazy to think we’re going to beat this team on their floor being behind that much,” said the Creighton head coach. “It was a huge win for our program and it comes at a good time for us.”

And it comes at a time when some were starting to question the doughiness of Creighton’s schedule to date and whether its top-25 ranking was justified. Question answered. The Bluejays topped the defending Mountain West Conference tournament champs 85-83 behind a double-double by Doug McDermott.

Chalk this one up as a resume win for Creighton, which had been 7-27 on the road the past two seasons. When decisions have to be made come March, this is a game the Bluejays can point to – overcoming a massive deficit in one of the most difficult environments they’ve seen in recent history.

“It’s so big to win on the road – especially in a place like this,” said Doug McDermott, who finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds. “The student section is so loud and everything is so loud. It was an emotional game the way it ended and we didn’t give in.

“This is the biggest atmosphere we’ve played in the last two years. They rattled us when they went on that run early. They weren’t missing shots and we were missing everything. But we kept our composure throughout the whole game. I’m really proud of us.”

There won’t be any questioning of Creighton’s spine after this one. The Aztecs shell-shocked Creighton in the first half, going on a 12-0 run before gaining their largest lead of 17 with 5:55 left in the half. McDermott had provided the bulk of Creighton’s scoring to that point, but then Ethan Wragge started to heat up. He hit a pair of 3-pointers, McDermott added a 3 and Creighton scraped its way back to a 39-35 deficit at the break.

“They threw the first punch, and I was starting to wonder if we’d respond,” Greg McDermott said. “Obviously, the last eight minutes of the first half were the key to the game. If we don’t inch back, they have all of the momentum going into the locker room. … We had to have somebody step up.”

While the younger McDermott kept Creighton in the game early, it was what he was saying and doing in between breaks and away from the ball that helped propel the Bluejays.

“He’s a dominant player, but he’s a good kid about it,” said Wragge, who provided 19 points off the bench. “He doesn’t need the ball to dominate, either. He took two charges and had 12 rebounds. He can do it all. When he gets that emotion, it feeds the whole team. It was fun.”

Over the past couple of seasons, Viejas Arena has become one of the more hostile gyms for visiting teams. And they took their shots at McDermott (both of them) and Co. But ultimately Creighton was not fazed.

“They fought back, that’s a sign of a great team, an NCAA tournament (team) to come into a place like this and be able to execute like that,” said San Diego State forward Tim Shelton. “Hats off to them, credit to them.”

Antoine Young gave the visitors their first lead with 6:43 remaining in the game when he nailed a 3-pointer to put Creighton ahead 65-62. The Bluejays would not give up the lead – pounding the ball inside and outscoring the Aztecs 24-14 in the paint in the second half.

“We’re never concerned with anything,” Young said. “We always expect ourselves to win in any type of ballgame. I think that’s the difference between this year and last year, we always think we can win. … The second half, we just came out and attacked right away.”