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Morning After: Creighton Gets Tough Test from UNC-Pembroke, Pulls Away For 93-70 Exhibition Win

Morning After: Creighton Gets Tough Test from UNC-Pembroke, Pulls Away For 93-70 Exhibition Win

[Box Score]

“Bluejay Beat” Postgame Podcast:

Recap & Analysis:

Coach Greg McDermott said in his postgame radio interview that as a coaching staff, you never know what type of game you’re going to get when you schedule a DII team for an exhibition. Sometimes you get an overmatched, undersized team that you wind up blowing out early. Sometimes, you get a scrappy team with shooters that hangs around and makes things interesting. And sometimes, you get UNC-Pembroke, a Top 25 team in DII with good size and length who makes you fight for rebounds, pushes you out from the basket defensively, and hits tough shots.

UNC-Pembroke made seven of their first 10 shots, as their bigs created space for mid-range jumpers and got position for layups, then converted. The Braves led 17-12 after five minutes of action, and a late-arriving crowd no doubt wondered what the heck was going on.

Khyri Thomas scored 8 of CU’s first 14 points to keep pace with the quick-starting visitors, and then CU’s bench gave them a spark, as first Ronnie Harrell and then Manny Suarez spearheaded a game-changing 15-2 run. Harrell checked in less than four minutes into the game, and grabbed rebounds to end two consecutive Brave possessions; the first resulted in a three-point play for Khyri Thomas. He assisted on a nifty layup by Suarez moments later to cut the deficit to 17-16.

Two possessions later, Harrell drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws to put the Jays up 19-17, then grabbed a rebound on the other end, and assisted on a bucket by Marcus Foster to make it 21-17. He drew another foul on the the next possession, hit two more free throws, and suddenly it was 23-17 Jays — thanks in large part to a tremendous four minute stretch from Harrell, but also thanks to their defense, who held UNC-P to two field goals over 13 possessions following that 7-10 start.

Foster and Thomas took the game over from there. Thomas, in particular. Here, he dribbled through traffic to create his own shot:

And here, as Foster stole a pass and threw an outlet to Thomas for the dunk:

And here, as he used #Khryifense to come up with a steal and an uncontested dunk:

Foster and Thomas’ explosion pushed the lead out to 44-32, and it looked like despite UNC-Pembroke’s best efforts, the home team was finally pulling away. A late flurry of turnovers let the Braves back in the game, keyed by a sloppy pass from Ty-Shon Alexander and a sloppy bit of ball handling by Foster where the Braves’ Micah Kinsey picked his pocket as Foster tried to dribble out the clock.

Up 49-41 at the break, Creighton came out blazing to start the second. They began the half on a 16-6 run to go up 65-49, highlighted by a pair of three-point plays from Foster, including this one:

They capped the run with a fun sequence where Thomas fed Martin Krampelj for a dunk, then Krampelj grabbed an offensive rebound the next possession and assisted Thomas on a three:

From there, the Jays put the game into cruise control. They showcased some slick ball movement:

Found Alexander for a breakaway slam in traffic:

And got a LONG three from fellow freshman Mitch Ballock:

They got meaningful contributions and double-digit minutes from 10 players, including:

  • 22 points, three rebounds and two steals by Thomas. His defense made him All-Big East caliber a year ago, but his offense has taken a massive leap forward this year, and that’s scary for opponents.
  • 19 points, four rebounds and three steals by Foster. Through two exhibitions, he’s still shown the same explosive ability offensively to score at all three levels, but is doing it more efficiently on fewer shots and creating more for his teammates. The Jays are damn lucky to have Thomas and Foster to lean on while they sort out the point guard position. Damn lucky.
  • 13 points, 12 rebounds (five offensive) by Suarez. We’ll talk more about Manny below, but he’s quickly becoming an important part of the rotation. He’s already shown that he’s their best offensive player in the post. He’s active defensively, and has the size to bang with anyone, though he needs to defend without fouling.
  • 7 points, 8 rebounds, three assists by Harrell. He’s shown flashes of his versatility and game-changing playmaking ability during his first two years, but always seemed to make enough dumb mistakes to cancel out his positive plays. He’s making smarter decisions with the ball this year, and that gives CU a great weapon at the ‘4’ — he’s perhaps their best rebounder, he can dribble and handle the ball like a point guard, and he can create havoc defensively. Like Suarez, he needs to defend without fouling. If he can…look out.
  • 10 points on 2-3 shooting from three-point range, three rebounds and two assists by Ballock. Through two games he’s shown the passing ability and court awareness he was touted for in high school, and looks ready to contribute from Day One. If anything, he’s almost *too* unselfish, which is the opposite problem most freshmen have when they step on the court. He’s going to be really, really good and a real pain in the butt for opponents the next four years.

It was in many ways the perfect exhibition game, giving the Jays the best of both worlds: a big enough win to get lots of playing time for the newcomers, but a win they had to work hard enough for to give the coaches lots of film to break down.

Key Stats:

Creighton out rebounds UNC-P 42-39 and was even on the offensive glass 11-11 against a team that was +7.4 on the boards in DII a year ago (and returned nearly everyone). Pembroke was tenacious and forced Creighton to fight for rebounds and be physical, and the Jays did alright. Not great, but better than a week ago against UNO, and much better than two weeks ago against Minnesota. They showed improvement, and for a facet of the game as important as rebounding — a facet expected to be a weakness for this Bluejay team — improvement, even incrementally, is welcome.

CU turned it over nine times in a sloppy first half, leading to 12 UNC-P points. The Jays cleaned things up significantly, committing just four turnovers in the second half, leading to just two points for their opponent.

Standout Performance:

Manny Suarez had a double-double in just 17 minutes of action, scoring 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds — five of them offensive. This after going for 14 and 8 against UNO. He’s quickly become a fan-favorite, earning the nickname “Mad Dog” on Twitter (courtesy of the always-hilarious Fake Blue Crew), and after a second straight game where he provided huge energy and production off the bench, what’s not to like? He’s a big man who hustles, scraps, claws, and fights for rebounds, plays aggressive defense with decent footwork, and has a nice touch shooting the ball.

It’s doubtful those kinds of numbers are sustainable against the better teams on CU’s schedule — teams like Northwestern, Gonzaga, UCLA, Baylor, Wisconsin, you know, the teams they’ll play the next three weeks — but they don’t have to be for Suarez to make a huge difference for this team. Expecting him to replace what Justin Patton provided is absurd. But can he replace what Zach Hanson gave them as a big man off the bench? Hanson averaged 5.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.2 minutes a year ago, and I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say Suarez can give the Jays that. If anything, that might be aiming a tad too low.

He’s looking like one helluva pickup for a late spring grad transfer.

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