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Morning After: Big Games From Expected and Unexpected Sources Key 82-68 Senior Night Win

Morning After: Big Games From Expected and Unexpected Sources Key 82-68 Senior Night Win

[Box Score]

Key Stats:

Creighton outrebounds St. John’s by 11, their largest margin during Big East play (and just the fifth time in 17 games they’ve outrebounded a conference opponent by any margin). Their 12 offensive boards were their most in a Big East game this year; they had 12 against Buffalo and 13 against Longwood in the non-conference.

The Jays got one of their best free-throw shooting performances of the year, too; their 18 made free throws were their second most in Big East play this year, their 81% shooting percentage from the line was the third-best for the entire season, and it was one of just five games where they’ve shot 80% or better from the line.

They committed 17 turnovers, tying a season-high, with Marcus Foster coughing it up seven times. But many of those were a result of pushing tempo at a rate they haven’t in some time — it was an 83-possession game, tied for their highest number of possessions all year with the Washington State game (a 103-77 win) and the Truman State game (a 101-69 win). It was just their second time in 17 Big East games, including the six Maurice Watson played in, that they played a game that exceeded 80 possessions.

Given the pace of the game, holding St. John’s to 68 points should generate more positive talk about Creighton’s defense than it is. That’s 0.81 points per possession, their second-best rate during Big East play. Their defensive efficiency now ranks second in the Big East at 102.3 during conference games, a full three points better than the D-I average. And after last night’s game, they’re now a Top 50 team in both Offensive Efficiency and Defensive Efficiency.

Standout Performance:

At this point, Khyri Thomas shouldn’t still be an underrated player, but outside of Omaha he is. If he has games in March like he did Tuesday against St. John’s, he won’t be a secret any more. Thomas nearly had a triple-double, scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, and dishing out seven assists while playing 35 minutes.

Over the last nine games — starting after the ghastly road game at Georgetown that was the low point of the season for the team — Thomas is 17-37 (45%) from three-point range, nearly equaling the 20 made threes he had in the first 21 games (when he shot just 20-59, or 33%). He’s 30-58 (51%) on two-pointers over that stretch. He has 41 assists after having 57 in those first 21 games. He’s had 57 of his 175 rebounds for the season in those nine games. And he’s continued to play defense at a rate that should make him the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

Recap & Analysis:

On Senior Night, the Bluejays played a starting five combination they’ve never used before — seniors Cole Huff, Isaiah Zierden, and Zach Hanson to go along with Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. That starting five blasted out to an 11-0 lead before the first timeout, mixing high-energy defense with a determined effort to score inside.

The Jays scored on each of their first three possessions, all on baskets at or near the rim with one each from Hanson, Thomas, and Foster. The onslaught continued once Justin Patton subbed in for Hanson, with the freshman scoring on two straight dunks as the Jays took a 13-2 lead six minutes in.

Defensively, they held St. John’s to 1-7 shooting and two points while forcing three turnovers on their first 10 possessions. Then the game flipped, and over Creighton’s next 10 possessions, they scored three points with five turnovers. That gave the Red Storm an opening, and they took it, cutting the lead to 16-13. And then the damnedest thing happened: CU put a lineup on the floor consisting of Foster, Thomas, Patton, Huff, and Ronnie Harrell, with Foster running the point. It was an experiment, as those five haven’t run together all year, and Harrell has struggled to get playing time no matter the lineup. As experiments go, it was kind of a mess, but in a good way — Harrell’s energy and athleticism were a jolt in the arm to a team in desperate need of it, and the other four players fed off it.

Harrell had three points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal in a six-minute stretch, and was seemingly in the middle of the action for those entire six minutes. He dove head first for a loose ball. He blasted through a pair of St. John’s players for a hard-fought rebound. He drove the length of the court as three St. John’s defenders tried — and failed — to stop his dribble; Malik Ellison ultimately fouled him five feet from the rim to slow him down.

The experimenting continued when Patton picked up his second foul 90 feet away from the basket moments later. Hanson initially subbed in for him, but then Martin Krampelj — like Harrell, a high-energy player who’s struggled to see the court — entered and completed a pair of tip-dunks as stunned St. John’s players failed to block him out, though in their defense, they’d probably not prepared for the Slovenian freshman nor seen much film on him. He’d attempted a shot in just four Big East games coming in, after all.

Back-to-back threes from Zierden and Toby Hegner, followed by a third dunk from Krampelj, were part of a 14-5 Creighton run to close the half. The Jays then took a 43-30 lead to the locker room on a buzzer-beating tip-in from Hegner.

Early in the second half, Krampelj got a third tip-dunk (and fourth dunk of the game) — which is astounding because this was the 30th game of the year and he had five dunks all year before this game.

Though the Red Storm cut the deficit to five on a couple of occasions, they were never able to get any closer as the Jays had an answer — both defensively and offensively — for every run. Their last gasp came with eight straight points from Ellison, cutting Creighton’s lead to 58-53 at the 9:36 mark. The Jays responded with two straight drives to the rim for baskets and two straight defensive stops, and then the Patton/Thomas duo put the game on ice with this play:

They eventually build a big enough lead to take their seniors out one at a time and get well-deserved curtain calls:

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