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.
“Obviously I made a terrible mistake,” McDermott said before the game in an interview on FS1. “There was a lot of emotions, especially that first week. But I think as we’ve worked through it, especially the last three or four days, we’ve had a lot of conversations one-on-one and I think the guys have moved to a level that I don’t ever want them to forget what happened, because I’ll never forget what happened.
“But I think they’re all processing to their level of forgiveness at the same time. I’m committed to them, as I’ve told them, to come out of this a better person and try to impact the world in a positive way from something very bad, the very bad choice that I made.”
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 postgame 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.
Before that game, five black Creighton players 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 they came to that decision.
McDermott, the father of former Creighton star and former Knicks forward Doug McDermott, is in his 11th season with the Bluejays. This year will mark the program’s sixth NCAA appearance during his tenure.
“It’s pretty simple. It’s March and that’s the thing we’ve been talking about the last few days,” McDermott added before the game. “I just want us to go out there, fly around, make sure we’re communicating and get some smiles on these guys’ faces and make sure they enjoy every second of it.”
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.
Senior forward Bryce Nze scored 21 points for the Bulldogs (10-15), who had upended No. 7 Xavier in Wednesday’s first round.