At least in his own mind, Doug McDermott's success has been partly due to controlling what he could. His habits and superstitions are well-documented now – he ate the same meal (rotisserie chicken) before each game of his Iowa high school's 52-game winning streak, he always wears a sleeved undershirt and a band on his arm, and he gets hypnotized before every game to help him relax. But then there are nights like Saturday against Providence – a night in which Creighton scored just 17-first half points and shot just 26.7 percent from beyond the arc – that remind you: You can't control everything.
For McDermott, the certain national player of the year, and the three other seniors on this roster (Grant Gibbs, Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge), the 65-58 loss to Providence also came with a realization: The next loss would be their last together.
"That's what's most disappointing," Wragge said. His voice trailed off as he continued, "I don't really even like thinking about that, man ... These guys are my best friends."
McDermott was more defiant: "I plan on winning the rest of our games."
This is what we love about the NCAA tournament – the thrill of possibility and the terror of a sudden ending. Sixty-eight teams enter the field together and an off-night – say a 26.7-percent shooting performance from three for a team that typically shoots 42.1 percent from deep – can cost even the best its one shining moment.
Whether or not the Bluejays prove McDermott prophetic, their senior class has accomplished so much together. They ended a five-year NCAA tournament drought for the program in 2012. They were the first group in school history to win NCAA tournament games in back-to-back seasons, in '12 and '13. This year they took their team from the mid-major Missouri Valley Conference and into the new Big East, finishing second in both the regular season and the tournament.
"It'll be a tough one if we lose," Creighton coach Greg McDermott, Doug's father, said after Saturday's game. "You have to celebrate because it's been an unbelievable ride. But the fact that it's been such a good trip will make it even more sad."
No coach or player – especially not the ultra-competitive McDermotts – will ever admit that there is a good time to lose. But the sting of a conference tournament championship loss doesn't last for very long. Even last night, Creighton players were joking that they didn't get to show off their dance moves to the pack of reporters and cameras across the locker room. (Another superstition is that a Creighton player dances after each win.) The loss was upsetting but it hadn't upended what the players are out to accomplish. They knew that on Sunday, they would be back in Omaha and would watch as they received Creighton's best-ever NCAA tournament seeding.
So instead of pouting, the country's best player tried to move forward. McDermott didn't have time for an ice bath, so he took a shower and taped ice around his leg and massaged his lower back. (In the second half, he took a hard charge around midcourt and came up gimpy.) He went to get two steak sandwiches and mixed vegetables in a to-go box. He said thank you to team managers and Madison Square Garden staff. He chatted about Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony with passers-by. He waved to fans inside the arena who had waited for more than an hour after the end of the game just to get another glimpse of the national player of the year. He stood in the same place on the freight elevator down that he had on the previous two days.
Finally, he escaped the world's most famous arena and breathed in the cold New York City night. It was just before midnight, and a small contingent of fans were waiting for him to sign autographs and pose for pictures. He knew the team managers would try to stop him, and the team managers truly know they can't: He's going to give the fans what they want.
As he posed for the first picture, he and the three fans he was with were blocking an exit as a van tried to leave the arena. "Come on guys, get out of the way," yelled a Garden employee before he realized what was happening. Even New Yorkers know Doug McDermott and Creighton basketball now. He relented and just asked them to hurry up.
After he got on the bus, McDermott would get back to his routine. He sits in the same seat on the bus and will sit in the cockpit of the charter plane for takeoff before going back to his same seat on the plane. He'll get back to his apartment and lay down in his bed, where he'll think about the game and how he can improve for an hour before he finally falls asleep.
The end is near, and Creighton's dreams of a championship are not likely to be realized. Besides McDermott, its players will likely not play in the NBA. They'll disperse to play overseas or in the D-League or start other types of professional careers. Even Dougie McBuckets knows that he'll be a role player, at least at first, when he makes it to the next level. But for now, he's the best player in college basketball, and no one – not team managers trying to stay on schedule, not arena employees trying to control traffic, not Bryce Cotton's incredible performance in Providence's win – can stop him from relishing these remaining moments. Midnight strikes, a new day begins and Doug McDermott is back in control.