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Morning After: Creighton’s Defense Comes Up Big In Wild Win over St. John’s, 78-71

Morning After: Creighton’s Defense Comes Up Big In Wild Win over St. John’s, 78-71

[Box Score]

Bluejay Beat Wrap-Up Show:

Recap & Analysis:


After blowing a seven-point lead and falling behind by 10 points in the second half, Creighton got 11 straight defensive stops as part of an 18-2 run to retake the lead. Then they made clutch plays on both ends of the floor to come away with a win that seemed to be more and more improbable early in the second half.

The first ten minutes had 11 lead changes, but after the Bluejays went ahead 20-19 on a jumper by Marcus Foster with 10:37 to play in the half, they began to slowly put some separation between themselves and the Red Storm. A steal by Khyri Thomas led to a transition bucket from Martin Krampelj to make it 22-19. A drive by Ronnie Harrell pushed the lead to 24-19. Another basket by Harrell, then a rebound by Harrell off a St. John’s miss and a feed to Krampelj underneath for a basket at the rim gave CU a 28-21 lead, and forced Chris Mullin to call timeout.

This dunk by Marcus Foster put the Jays up 36-29 heading into the under-four timeout, and everything was pointing the Bluejays’ way — they had a seven-point lead, they had scored on 16 of their 27 possessions, they had outrebounded St. John’s 17-9, and held a 16-8 advantage on points in the paint.

Oh, how quickly things unraveled.

Over the final four minutes of the half, St. John’s used a 14-0 run to turn that seven-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Creighton committed three turnovers during that stretch and missed all four of their shot attempts, with their freshman duo of Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock at the center of the storm as each had a turnover and a missed three. The first of those turnovers seemed to be the most costly at the time, as Ballock had a lazy pass intercepted by Shamorie Ponds who raced down court for a layup to cut the lead to 36-33. Ponds had been held in check by Thomas up until that point, but the steal and basket seemed to flip a switch. He assisted on a three-pointer by Tariq Owens on their next trip to tie the score, then assisted on a layup by Bashir Ahmed on the next possession to give them the lead. He’d add a three-pointer of his own, followed by yet another steal, and in what seemed like the snap of a finger St. John’s had turned the entire complexion of the game 180 degrees.

In the first 15 minutes of the game, Ponds had been 0-3 from three-point range and 0-4 overall, with zero points, one steal and three assists. In the final four minutes alone, had five points, two assists, and two steals.

The start of the second half was more of the same, as St. John’s came up with three steals in the first four minutes and after a thunderous dunk by Justin Simon, the Johnnies led 54-44. While the crowd was still groaning (and the Red Storm were still gloating), Foster took advantage of their temporary lapse in concentration and raced the length of the floor in four seconds for a bucket.

Marvin Clark II hit a shot coming out of the under-16 timeout to briefly push the St. John’s lead back to 10, but then the crowd came to life — and so did the Bluejays. They made a schematic adjustment in the huddle during that timeout, and it led to four straight stops that helped them cut the lead in half. In the first half, and for the first four minutes of the second, the Jays had their ‘5’ guarding Tariq Owens. St. John’s was running him off of pick-and-pop actions, which forced Creighton to scramble defensively.

“Owens is so long, and when they set that high ball screen, they pop him,” Coach Greg McDermott said on his postgame radio show. “So if you stunt the ball screen, they beat you on a back-door, or they made one more pass and got a three somewhere else, and he had two three’s himself the first half. We just felt we had to do something different.”

Marcus Foster elaborated on that change. “In the second half, we adjusted and put our ‘4’ man — either Ronnie or Toby — on him instead,” he said on the Bluejay Radio Network postgame show. “That let us get back to him quicker and more organized on the pop.”

The adjustment to going small on Owens, mostly with Ronnie Harrell, allowed them to switch on every single perimeter ball screen the Red Storm set. That took away a lot of the successful ball screen actions that had created good shots for the Red Storm earlier in the game, and in turn forced them into settling for jump shots, which they missed. Repeatedly. Over a 14-possession stretch, St. John’s scored two points, missing 11 of the 12 shots they attempted — 10 of which were jumpers. That’s precisely what you want St. John’s to do, as we talked about in the Primer, because as a team the Red Storm simply don’t shoot very well the further away from the rim you get them.

An underrated moment that kick-started the decisive stretch of the game? With his team up 56-46, Owens blocked Ronnie Harrell’s shot and stared him down for such a long time that the refs stepped in to stop the celebration. It got what had been a rather subdued crowd upset, seemed to light a fire under a Bluejay team that had looked a bit lethargic, and they fed off each other as the game turned.

During that run, Martin Krampelj took over the game on the offensive end. He scored five straight points as the Jays cut the lead in half, 56-51, the last of which came on this dunk that forced a St. John’s timeout:

The Bluejay big man was becoming the difference maker in the game, and it was appreciated by another Bluejay big man who was in the house — Gregory Echenique. He’d been cheering the Jays on from behind the bench, but most of the crowd were unaware of his presence. The arena production crew waited until the perfect time to put him on camera, and when they did so during that timeout, the building erupted.

The defensive stand continued, as Krampelj cleared another missed Johnny jumper and Thomas hit a bucket to cut the lead to 56-53. A layup by Krampelj made it 56-55. Harrell tied it at the line with a free throw. And then Krampelj threw down a dunk for the lead, alternatively grinning and screaming as he hung from the rim for a brief moment.

They’d scored 13 straight points, and after Ponds ended a long drought with a bucket for St. John’s to make it a one-point game, Foster answered with a long three to give the Jays a 62-58 lead. A pair of free throws from the freshman Ty-Shon Alexander gave CU a six-point cushion at 64-58, capping off a 18-2 run that spanned nearly eight minutes.

The Jays’ turnover bug resurfaced during crunch time, and a pair of turnovers by Alexander led to easy buckets for St. John’s, just as they had in the first half. Both came late in the shot clock, and as Nick Bahe noted on the WBR Bluejay Beat podcast, weren’t totally the fault of Alexander. The Jays’ veterans, namely Foster and Thomas, needed to go take the ball from him in those situations instead of leaving the freshman to create against an opportunistic St. John’s defense.

The decision to stick with the freshman Alexander over the more experienced Davion Mintz was questioned by some fans after the game, but was explained thusly by the head coach.

“I almost went back to Davion late in the second half, but I felt like that group of players got us back into the game and sometimes you just have to dance with the one that brought ya,” McDermott said on his postgame show. “We talked about subbing in Davion, and wanted to give Tazz a break. But our fear was that if Shamorie Ponds gets started while someone else is guarding him, can we get him stopped? Tazz had kept him in check, so we decided to roll with it. And Ty-Shon will learn so much from tonight. We won the game, he made some plays to help us win it, and he played through some mistakes that he’ll learn from. He’s never played against a team like this in his life. He’ll grow and learn, and be better because of this.”

Clinging to a 73-71 lead with 55 seconds to play, Thomas missed a jumper and with St. John’s running down court, Krampelj sprinted the length of the floor and blocked Justin Simon’s shot from behind — a remarkable play that you could never imagine Krampelj making earlier in his career. If there’s one single moment that crystalizes his amazing improvement, it’s this one, and what a time to make it. Wow.

“That saved the game,” McDermott said. “It was huge. And it’s a great example of never quitting on a play. If Martin doesn’t sprint out of the gates, he never gets there. Such a huge play, and it shows the growth and maturity he’s had not just from last season to this season but from the start of this season until now.”

Coming out of a timeout with 21 seconds left, the Jays had drawn up a play to get Foster a shot. They still led 73-71 — Ty-Shon Alexander had missed the front end of a one-and-one for the Jays, and Marvin Clark II had done the same for St. John’s — and needed a bucket to seal the victory.

“I gave the defender a little jab move to get him off me, and because of that Khyri’s man had to help on me,” Foster said on the postgame radio show. “I give credit to Tyler Clement here, because he always does this move in practice where he runs into your defender (to create space) and then tosses it back to you. So I kinda ran into Khyri’s man and tossed it back to him to try and get him an open look. And he knocked it down.”

With Foster standing in the way of the only defender close enough to defend the shot, Thomas had a wide-open look. His three from the corner took the most dramatic route possible before going in — it bounced off the rim twice, banked off the glass, and then rattled home.

Key Stats:

Creighton turns it over 17 times, 13 of them via St. John’s steals — and seven different Bluejays commit at least one turnover.

St. John’s has a 24-8 advantage in points off turnovers, and an 18-2 lead in fast break points (mostly because of those turnovers).

Creighton out rebounds St. John’s 41-23, largely because St. John’s abandoned the offensive glass on almost every shot attempt in favor of sending five guys back on defense to prevent the Jays from running in transition.

Standout Performance:

Martin Krampelj scored 10 points during the Jays’ decisive 18-2 run in the second half, and had another double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He chipped in two assists and two blocks for good measure, too.

Marcus Foster was big, too, with 25 points on 10-16 shooting including 5-8 from behind the arc. Khyri Thomas scored 17, with five assists, and made St. John’s leading scorer Shamorie Ponds into an afterthought — Ponds scored just 12 points in 39 minutes, including shooting 1-7 from three-point range.

But Ronnie Harrell played the key role in this one. His stats were solid — 13 points, seven rebounds, and two absolutely huge three-pointers — but it was the other things he did that turned this from a possible loss into a win. When the Jays adjusted to go small on Tariq Owens, it was Harrell who drew the assignment of guarding the bigger, longer St. John’s center. And he delivered.

“Ronnie does so much for us,” McDermott said. “He’s worked so hard on his shooting, and it’s paid off. But him scoring the basketball is such a small part of what he does for us. He’s active on the glass, he can defend four different positions, he can switch on ball screens and we don’t have to worry about where he ends up. He’s very, very valuable to our team. The lift he gives us off the bench is really important.”

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