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Morning After: After Sluggish, Sloppy First Half, Creighton Steamrolls Alcorn State in Second Half

Morning After: After Sluggish, Sloppy First Half, Creighton Steamrolls Alcorn State in Second Half

[Box Score]

Bluejay Beat Wrap-Up Radio:

Recap & Analysis:

Our 103-63 prediction in the Pregame Primer wasn’t all that far off from the actual 109-72 final score, but how the Jays got that 37-point win was completely unpredictable.

The first half was some of the ugliest basketball you’ll ever see, with the teams combining for 31 fouls and 26 turnovers. That’s 57 whistles in 20 minutes of play, or roughly once every 35 seconds, but who’s counting? Creighton scored just 24 points on their first 23 possessions, with nine turnovers as they looked befuddled by an unexpected 2-3 zone defense (and occasional full court press) from Alcorn State.

Worse, Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas both found themselves glued to the bench for the final ten minutes of the half after picking up two early fouls; Toby Hegner soon joined them after picking up his second, leaving the Jays without their three most experienced starters in a game that was too close for comfort.

It may have been a blessing in disguise, as it forced Greg McDermott and his staff to lean heavily on their young and inexperienced players, for better or worse — and it gave them experience playing against both a zone and a press. Foster (19), Thomas (14) and Hegner (17) might not have a game the rest of the year where they play so few minutes, and freshmen like Mitch Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander might not ordinarily have played so much in a season’s second game — and certainly not while the game was in the balance.

They played well, too. When Foster joined Thomas on the bench with just over ten minutes to play in the first half, Creighton led 24-22. A reserve-heavy lineup scored on eight of their next 11 possessions, going on an 18-6 run that was essentially the decisive point of the game. They cracked the 2-3 zone that had frustrated Creighton’s starters, and took a 49-36 lead into halftime.

Ronnie Harrell shined (four rebounds and two assists in 14 first half minutes). So did Mitch Ballock (five points, two steals and an assist in 10 first half minutes). Manny Suarez ended the half with a nifty dribble-drive for a layup at the horn, and when the starters came back onto the court in the second half, they made up for lost time.

Foster scored the Jays’ first five points out of the break, and eight of their first 10, including a pair of three-pointers. Alcorn State was hanging around, though, and despite that early flurry from Foster, found themselves down just nine at 54-45 with 16:46 left. They’d immediately find themselves on the wrong side of a 20-0 run — yes, twenty to zero — that blew the game wide open. As part of that run, Foster’s breakaway dunk with 14:39 left pushed the lead out to 20 at 64-45; it took just three minutes more to grow the lead to 30, as a barrage of threes from Ballock, Tyler Clement, and Foster pushed the lead to 77-47, as seen late in this montage:

The quickness with which Creighton ran away from Alcorn State was stunning. In the matter of six minutes of game time, and about 15 minutes of actual time, they turned a nine-point lead into a 32-point lead. At the 10:31 mark — six minutes and 15 seconds later — CU led 80-48, thanks to a 26-3 run. I’ve seen a lot of big runs against sub-par early season opponents in 25 years of watching Creighton basketball, and that one is one of the more remarkable.

All totaled, the Jays made 61.3% of their shots in the second half, made 10 of their first 15 three-pointers, assisted on 12 of their 19 made baskets, and scored 60 points (an absurd 1.5 points per possession). Oh, and they had just five turnovers. Yes, it came against Alcorn State, but after a brutal first half, they had a brilliant second half of basketball. They’ll need to replicate that second half as best as they can, because they now enter the meat of their non-conference slate. In the next two weeks, they play at #19 Northwestern, vs #21 UCLA in Kansas City, vs either unranked but still very good Wisconsin or #24 Baylor in KC, then at #18 Gonzaga.

Ready or not, things get much tougher from here. Much tougher.

Key Stats:

The first and second half splits tell the story here:

1st Half Shooting: 14-28 (50.0%)
2nd Half Shooting: 19-31 (61.2%)

1st Half 3-Pt Shooting: 4-13 (30.7%)
2nd Half 3-Pt Shooting: 12-20 (60.0%)

1st Half Turnovers: 14
2nd Half Turnovers: 5

1st Half Assists: 6 on 14 made baskets
2nd Half Assists: 12 on 19 made baskets

Standout Performance:

CU’s freshmen had big nights in game where they needed to come up big. Mitch Ballock had 15 points in 18 minutes, making 6-9 from the floor and 3-6 from three-point range, and a team-high three steals — including this one that led to a dunk:

Ty-Shon Alexander had 10 points on 3-6 shooting and 2-4 from long range, six rebounds, and two assists in 19 minutes. Alexander had a nice stretch of play during the game’s final 10 minutes, where he hit a pair of three-pointers, got into the lane off the dribble and converted a layup, and hit a pair of free throws. After two games, the question about Ballock and Alexander has progressed quickly from “will they be ready to contribute right away?” to “how can the Jays carve out more minutes for them?”

Foster had 23 points on just nine shots, and has scored 46 points through two games on just 22 total shots. He was a volume shooter a year ago — scoring a ton, but taking a ton of shots to get there — and made a concerted effort over the summer to be a more selective shooter. Can he continue to do that against tougher teams with tougher defenses? We’ll see. If he can, Creighton becomes that much better.

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