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Men’s Basketball: Managing McDermott – Cajuns explore options against nation’s leading scorer

Tim Buckley, Daily Advertiser, March 20, 2014

NCAA Basketball: Big East Tournament-Xavier vs Cre
Creighton forward Doug McDermott (3), shown here reacting after a basket against Xavier in the Big East Tournament, will be the central focus of UL’s defensive approach in Friday’s NCAA West Regional contest. / Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

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With UL facing Creighton and senior star Doug McDermott in an NCAA Tournament game Friday in San Antonio, a look at the current NCAA Division I career scoring leaders:

1. Pete Maravich, LSU (1967-70) 3,667 points (83 games)
2. Freeman Williams, Portland St. (1974-78) 3,249 (106)
3. Lionel Simmons, LaSalle (1986-90) 3,217 (131)
4. Alphonso Ford, Miss. Valley St. (1989-93) 3,165 (109)
5. Doug McDermott, Creighton (2010-14) 3,105 (143)

(Note: UL’s Bo Lamar, 1970-73, scored 3,493 career points, but only two of his years were in Division I.)


West Regional

No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 14 UL

Game: 2:10 p.m., Friday, San Antonio.
TV: truTV (Cox ch. 51, LUS 80, DirecTV 246, Dish 242).
Radio: 107.9 FM.
Records: Creighton 26-7; UL 23-11.
Series: Tied 2-2 (Creighton won 63-58 in 2010).

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SAN ANTONIO — On the surface, at least, it seems to be an overwhelming task.

How does a defense that yields more points than most teams in the Sun Belt Conference – and the nation, for that matter – deal with the most-prolific scorer in college basketball today?

That’s the chore for UL when it opens NCAA Tournament play against No. 3 seed Creighton and standout senior forward Doug McDermott on Friday afternoon here.

“Say this: We’re exploring all options,” UL coach Bob Marlin said after the Ragin’ Cajuns’ first practice since their Sun Belt Tournament title-game win over Georgia State last Sunday. “We’ve thought about different things.

“We’re gonna have to creative,” added Marlin, whose 23-11 Cajuns average 81.4 points per game (12th-most nationally) but give up 75.1 (296th in the country). “I’ve had all kind of people offer suggestions – but none of them are realistic.”

Perhaps that is because McDermott, a two-time All-American and multiple winner already of five national Player of the Year awards, is so darn tough to stop.

He’s scored at least 22 points in 13 consecutive games, and has 19 or more points in all but two games this season – including 12 with 30 or more.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Marlin remembers when he was early in his first season at UL, back in 2010, and the Cajuns were playing their first road game against a Creighton club with a certain son-of-the-coach freshman who didn’t necessarily seem like all that at the time.

“He was a skinny, 6-7 4-man that posted up and played around the basket a lot,” Marlin said. “We told our staff, ‘This guy’s gonna a good player in time.’ But I had no idea he’d be one of the elite scorers in the country.”

McDermott had 12 points, six rebounds, shot just 4-of-12 from the field and committed three turnovers while playing 26 minutes in that Nov. 17, 2010, 63-58 Creighton win over the Cajuns in Omaha.

Nearly three-and-a-half years later, he is the fifth-highest NCAA Division I career scorer and the country’s top scorer this season at 26.9 points per game.

“So it’s kind of an awesome opportunity for our young men to go against a guy that the whole nation’s gonna be watching,” Marlin said. “There will be a lot of eyes on this game because of Doug McDermott.”

All Cajun eyes are bound to focused on McDermott at one time or another.

Senior power forward Elridge Moore seems like a leading candidate to spend many minutes on McDermott.

“We have a great defender in Elridge Moore,” UL backup center J.J. Davenport said, “and I feel him on Doug McDermott – if you stop one player, you know, we’ve got a great shot.”

But Moore’s not the only one likely to be called on.

Even Cajuns point guard Elfrid Payton, the Sun Belt’s Defensive Player of the Year, could draw some McDermott duty too, and UL would wind up using some zone defense like it did late in Sunday’s SBC championship game against Georgia State as well.

“We’ll have to do all kinds of things with Doug,” Marlin said. “But we’ve got some guys that can cause him some problems, hopefully.”

Some schemes too, Marlin hopes as well.

“I do know Providence zoned him in the Big East Tournament and had a lot of success there,” he said. “But he’s not the only one (from Creighton). They can really shoot the basketball.

“(Payton’s) wanting the best guy. He’s (Sun Belt) Defensive Player of the Year; he’s gonna play in the NBA at some point in time. So is Doug McDermott. That’s a possible matchup there. Elridge Moore is our best defender on the perimeter against bigger people usually.

“You know, we’re concerned about Doug – because he’s a great player,” Marlin added. “But I’m sure Greg (Creighton coach Greg McDermott) is concerned about Elfrid (Payton) too, and some of our (other) guys, (big man) Shawn (Long) included.”

Payton volunteered to help guard everyone from Georgia State guard Ryan Harrow and Western Kentucky shooting guard T.J. Price and forward Georgia Fant in the Sun Belt tourney.

“We’ll hand him (Payton) off to different people,” Marlin said, “just we did during the conference tournament, probably.”

That’s fine by Payton.

He’s willing to do whatever it takes now, especially if it comes down to switching over to McDermott in a tight, late-game situation.

“If I feel like things are getting out of hand, or I feel like our players need a break form them,” Payton said, “that’s when I ask, ‘Let me take that, let me do that.’

“At this point of the season,” he added, “that’s what it’s got to be: Whatever it takes to get the win. And that’s what I’m gonna do.”

Payton’s strategy for dealing for McDermott is similar to what Moore suggests he’d do if indeed assigned.

Payton said he would “just try to make him as uncomfortable as possible, just to try to get him out of rhythm, just try not to let him get to his spots, contest every shot.”

Moore said he’d stay glued, trying to bump McDermott as much as he could get away with on every cut.

“Just make him tired through the whole 40 minutes,” Moore said.

“If I had to guard him I’d just try to … not let him touch the ball,” he added. “Just keep the ball out of his hands. Because I know he’s capable of doing a lot with the basketball. He can shoot and post up, he’s got good foot work.”

He can do all that, and more, including moving all around the court as a power forward and shooting with off left hand when needed.

McDermott would have been a first-round NBA pick had he left school early and turned pro after his junior season last year.

Instead, he decided to return for one more season under his father – and, after teammate Grant Gibbs was awarded an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA for medical reasons, he volunteered to relinquish his scholarship so one would be available for Gibbs.

That meant McDermott – featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s March 17 edition – would take his show from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East, of which Creighton is now a member.

It’s a path that’s taken him from the stage of Madison Square Garden for conference play to storied Hinkle Field in Indiana to play also-new-Big East member Butler and now to the AT&T Center here in San Antonio to begin NCAA Tournament play against the Cajuns.

“McDermott is a great athlete, super young man,” said Marlin, who notes he’s a super shooter much like Georgia State shooting guard R.J. Hunter is – just with a much-bigger body. “And his father Greg is a very well-respected coach and a good basketball coach. They’re good people.

“He (Doug McDermott) a basketball purist. … He can shoot the basketball deep. Both of them do that very well. And I think that’s probably the best thing Doug does, is shoot the ball with range. I think he’ll be a good stretch, and shooter, in the NBA.”

All the Cajuns need to worry about, though, is limiting that stretch and those made shots for just one game.

It’s likely to be a job much easier described that done, tough.

“I’ve been searching (for ways),” a bleary-eyed Marlin said early in the week. “That’s why I hadn’t had much sleep. I’m unable to come up with anything. He’s quite the player.”