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Morning After: Creighton Leads Most of the Game, Comes Up Short Late in 65-59 Loss to Baylor

Morning After: Creighton Leads Most of the Game, Comes Up Short Late in 65-59 Loss to Baylor

 

[Box Score]

Key Stats:

Creighton made 5-30 from three-point range (16.7%), and that’s the big, flashing marquee stat in this one. Their 22-64 overall shooting was awful, as well (34.4%). How does that compare to the 2014 blowout loss to Baylor in the NCAA Tournament? They were an eerily similar 5-24 from three (20.8%) and 22-55 (40.0%) overall in that game.

The Bluejays infamously lost that one by 30, but led or were tied in this one for 34 of the 40 minutes. The difference? They defended superbly (holding Baylor to 24-52 overall shooting and 5-16 from three) and rebounded the ball (Baylor edged them out 38-34 on the glass, and the Jays outrebounded them 12-7 on offensive boards). Creighton was dominated in both facets in that 2014 game; Baylor made 30-47 from the floor and 11-18 on threes, and outrebounded the Jays 32-22.

Just as in the 2014 meeting, CU had a catastrophic game offensively. In order to win that one, the Jays would have needed to make about 20 more shots than they did. Tuesday night in Kansas City, one or two more baskets would have given them a “W” — a 7-30 night from three point range instead of 5-30, or 25-64 overall night instead of 22-64, and the Jays might have won. That’s an encouraging sign, because they’re not going to face a worse matchup the rest of the year than Baylor, they’re not going to shoot this poorly very often, and even with those two things being the case, they were *right there*.

That’s a testament to how good this team is overall, not an indictment of their offense, and certainly not a reason to suddenly be pessimistic for the rest of the season. Future opponents might opt to zone the Bluejays, but no one else on their schedule has the personnel to do it as effectively for 40 minutes as Baylor.

Standout Performance:

Khyri Thomas struggled offensively, making just five of the 14 shots he attempted (and two of 10 three-pointers). But given how much energy he expended in completely dominating Baylor’s top scoring threat (and the top scorer in the Big XII), Manu Lecomte, on defense you can hardly blame him for not having much left offensively. Thomas was incredible. He basically eliminated Lecomte from the game the way a shutdown corner eliminates a star receiver in football. And it isn’t like the Bears weren’t trying to implement creative ways to get shots for their star — they did. They ran off-ball screens for him on what seemed like every possession, and often ran three or four screens on the same possession, all with the intent of freeing him up. They ran ball screens, too, on what seemed to be every possession. Thomas was in his face every time, his footwork so fundamentally sound and his lateral quickness so ridiculous that Lecomte never had an inch of free space to hoist a shot, even when by all rights Thomas should have been taken out of position.

Lecomte only attempted eight shots all night. He made just two.

Recap & Analysis:

Creighton used an early 16-4 run to build a nine-point lead halfway through the first half, executing a smart gameplan nearly perfectly. On offense, they got the ball into the paint either off the dribble or via pass to one of the bigs near the foul line, then used that player to find an open shooter on the perimeter, or a cutter driving towards the rim, or, if all else failed, shooting a short jumper themselves. Against a 1-3-1 like Baylor ran in the first half, it was effective in extending the Bears’ guards out — and thus creating space for movement closer to the basket.

Simple? You bet. Effective? Oh yeah.

They led by as many as 12 in the first half, and took a 33-24 lead into halftime. Just over 1/3 of their shot attempts came from behind the arc, as they were able to get to the rim nearly any time they wanted to. They had an assist on 10 of their 13 made baskets. If there was a flaw, it was in execution, not in plan; they missed far too many baskets from six feet and in. Ronnie Harrell missed two layups in the first half. So did Martin Krampelj. Marcus Foster missed three close-range jumpers. Davion Mintz missed two. All in the first half. CU had a great plan for attacking the zone, and succeeded in beating it right up until the point of making baskets.

Defensively, they forced 11 turnovers and gave up just three offensive boards. They held Baylor to 0.67 points per possession. They were — dare I say? — dominant defensively, and a few missed shots away from blowing out the Bears.

In the second half, Creighton took a 40-28 lead two minutes in following a three-pointer by Thomas and it looked like that rout might be on. Then Baylor made an adjustment to tighten and compact their zone (switching between a 2-3 and a 1-1-3).

The aim? To cut off the Jays’ ability to penetrate off the dribble by compacting the zone — rather than extending out as they had in the first half, leaving gaps for quick guards to dribble through, they tightened those gaps. That left space for whoever was playing the “4” to beat them, by design, because there wouldn’t be cutters driving to the rim to pass to, and wouldn’t be open shooters on the perimeter. They were essentially daring Ronnie Harrell, who played that spot most of the second half, to beat them.

He could not.

Harrell missed all four of his shot attempts, and appeared to make rushed decisions with the ball when he kicked it out. They missed nine straight shots after that switch to the compacted zone, and a 10-0 Baylor run mostly erased the Jays’ 12-point lead.

They missed 15 consecutive three-pointers, spanning almost the entirety of the second half. After Thomas’ three that gave them that 40-28 lead, they didn’t make another until Mitch Ballock hit one with eight seconds left in the game. The only way to loosen a zone that compact is to make three-pointers, and the Jays had one of their worst halves from behind the arc in recent memory. Foster and Thomas, in particular: they combined to shoot 1-12 from three-point range in the second half.

And yet, despite all of that, CU led until there were three minutes left in the game because their defense and their rebounding kept the game close. They had a great gameplan, they executed well, and the difference was a shot or two going in (or not). That’s a recipe you can go to battle with in March and be confident in, because there won’t be many, if any, nights where they miss this many shots.

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