Creighton top Butler as Greg McDermott returns

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Greg McDermott was back on the sidelines Thursday night for victorious Creighton in the Big East Tournament, his first game coaching his team since he’d been suspended last week for making racially insensitive remarks to his players.

Second-seeded Creighton emerged from a tumultuous couple of weeks and cruised to an 87-56 blowout of No. 10 Butler at the Garden. The Bluejays will face the winner of Thursday’s late game between Connecticut and DePaul in the semifinals Friday night.

“I’m just really proud of our guys. … I really wanted them to enjoy tonight and enjoy March,” McDermott said after the game. “We’ve had a lot of conversations obviously over the course of the last 10 days, especially in New York, more one-on-one with me, just continuing to work through this process.

“But the message I left all of them with is, ‘You have to enjoy this. Life is too short and you’ve got a great opportunity in front of you.’ ”

The 56-year-old McDermott had been reinstated Monday by Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen and university president Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, four days after he’d been banned indefinitely by the school for saying he needed “everybody to stay on the plantation” during a post-game meeting following a Feb. 27 loss at Xavier.

McDermott revealed publicly what had transpired during an apology in a Twitter post on March 2, calling his choice of words “an egregious mistake.” He initially coached Creighton in another loss the next night against Villanova, but assistant Alan Huss ran the bench during a win in the regular-season finale Saturday against Butler.

Greg McDermott returned to the Creighton sidelines.
Greg McDermott returned to the Creighton sidelines.
AP Photo

Before that game, five black players on the team addressed in a video shown on the scoreboard at their home arena in Omaha how they were hurt and disappointed by McDermott’s words. McDermott has since said he agreed with the suspension and told his team he’d resign if the players came to that decision.

“We’ve built this program on culture and to have good culture, you have to have good people,” McDermott said Thursday night. “I have good people and that’s why we’ve been able to get ourselves through a very difficult situation.”

Creighton, which finished 14-6 in conference play in the regular season, improved to 19-7 overall behind 18 points and five assists from junior guard Marcus Zegarowski and 14 points from senior forward Damien Jefferson.

The Bluejays, whose opening game against St. John’s during last year’s conference tournament was called off at halftime due to COVID-19 concerns, raced to a 23-7 advantage and never looked back, leading by as many as 33 in the second half.

“I just think everyone in that locker room was hungry to get going,” Zegarowski said. “[McDermott is] not only a great coach, he’s a great person to have in your corner and a great role model for all of our guys. He cares about basketball, but he really cares about me and my teammates off the court. … There’s nothing else to it. He’s a great coach on and off the court. He’ll be in my corner for the rest of my life.

“It was great to have him on our sideline. I feel really good when he’s out there running the show.”

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