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Morning After: It’s A Blue State For the Seventh Straight Year as Creighton Once Again Beats Nebraska, 75-65

Morning After: It’s A Blue State For the Seventh Straight Year as Creighton Once Again Beats Nebraska, 75-65

[Box Score]

Bluejay Beat Podcast:

Recap & Analysis:

Creighton played about as badly as they could play in the first half against Nebraska on Saturday. They had 10 turnovers, made just two out of 13 from three-point range, and missed five free throws. Both Martin Krampelj and Khyri Thomas were hampered by foul trouble, they got zero points with four turnovers from their point guard duo of Ty-Shon Alexander and Davion Mintz, and two points on 1-5 shooting from Marcus Foster. The Huskers took the lead with 15:46 left in the half and were either tied or ahead the rest of the way.

And yet…there was a sense inside CenturyLink Center that they’d blown an opportunity to put the game out of reach, or at least create enough separation to weather an inevitable Creighton run. To play as badly as the Bluejays had played and to only be down five was kind of amazing, really.

They were able to hang around partially because Nebraska had foul trouble of it’s own — starting center Jordy Tshimanga played just six minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, starting guard James Palmer saw his minutes limited by two fouls, and Isaiah Roby somehow picked up more fouls (3) than minutes played (2). But the Jays were also able to hang around because they got six points and nine rebounds in 13 first-half minutes from Ronnie Harrell, and solid defense from Mitch Ballock who was forced into action guarding Glynn Watson after Thomas headed to the bench with two fouls.

Never was that more evident than on this play, as Ballock raced down court to contest a breakaway basket by Watson. Harrell threw an errant pass that was intercepted by the Husker guard, and Ballock ran stride for stride with him down court — and blocked his shot at the rim.

“I saw Watson read the passing lane, because I was behind him,” Ballock said on the postgame radio show. “I tried to size him up, and I thought he was just going to lay it up, you know? But he tried to dunk on me. So I met him at the rim and tried to get a piece of it. I got a piece of it (laughing).”

Plays like that kept the game closer than it had any right to be, and allowed them the opportunity to regroup at halftime. Nebraska had dictated the tempo from the start, and turned it into a grind-it-out game much like Baylor had done in Kansas City earlier this season. The difference here was while Baylor dropped into a zone to slow pace, Nebraska sent all five players back on defense immediately after a miss to take away transition opportunities. CU’s guards were attacking one-on-three or three-on-five, and in trying to force pace despite not having the numbers to really attack, wound up turning it over.

“They’re programmed to ‘go go go go!’ so at halftime we settled them down,” Greg McDermott noted on his postgame radio show. “Our adjustment was telling them to run if we had numbers, but slow things down if we didn’t. Nebraska does a great job collapsing on the dribble. When you jump in the air, they start to recover. They got deflections, they got steals in the first half. In the second half, when our guys got downhill, they set their feet and then the defense couldn’t recover which allowed us to pitch it out and attack on the second side.”

That seemingly little adjustment made all the difference in the world. Playing a slower, more fundamentally-sound offensive attack, they began to find their footing and even get points in transition, as Thomas converted a three-point play to cut the deficit to 36-34. Isaac Copeland answered with a dunk on the other end, and Foster responded with a dunk of his own to keep it a two-point game. And then another adjustment by McDermott, this one out of a timeout — drawing up a play they’d not run all year, to get a shot for Ballock who’d been struggling the last few games — made a more immediate difference. He drilled the shot and CU retook the lead 39-38, going in front for the first time since early in the game.

Palmer made a jumper for Nebraska to give them the lead right back, but it was short lived — 22 seconds to be exact — as Ballock put the Jays right back ahead with a jumper on their end. It was 41-40 Creighton, and though the game would be tied twice more, Nebraska never led again.

CU’s defense had a lot to say about that. Following Ballock’s shot for the lead, they forced a shot clock violation with 35 seconds of stellar halfcourt defending, denying the Huskers from either a clean look at a shot or an opening to drive.

Better decisions with the ball were also key. After 14 turnovers in the first 27 minutes of the game, the Jays had zero in the final 12:47 — and CU outscored them 32-22 during that final stretch.

Foster had been held to two first half points, but scored 17 in the second — eight in the final 3-1/2 minutes — and hit one clutch shot after another in the final minutes of the game. With the Jays clinging to a 55-54 lead and 3:51 to play, he made this ridiculous shot on a drive into the paint, and converted the free throw for a three-point play:

Up 62-59, he bulldozed his way to the rim and got another layup. And with 1:17 to play, he hit the dagger by burying a three-pointer against Nebraska’s 1-3-1 zone, which they’d not used all afternoon before that possession. Thomas drove towards the middle of the zone to collapse the defenders, and kicked it out to a semi-open Foster who nailed a catch-and-shoot three. The CenturyLink Center erupted, as Foster celebrated while he ran down court, his team up 69-63.

“That 1-3-1 is Xavier’s zone. Mike Lewis (Nebraska assistant) was at Butler, and they took that scheme from Xavier,” McDermott explained on his radio show. “We practiced against it this week because they’ve used it enough this year that we felt we needed to prepare for it. To our guys credit, they adjusted on the fly. I didn’t want to take a timeout there because Nebraska didn’t have any left. Had we not prepared for it, I’d have taken a timeout there to set something up. But we practiced for it, our guys knew what to do, and they executed.”

Key Stats:

Creighton turns it over 14 times, but none in the final 12:47 of the game. CU outscores Nebraska 38-26 on points in the paint, 14-4 on second chance points, and 12-2 on made free throws. CU outrebounds Nebraska 43-33 and has 15 assists on 29 made baskets, including nine of their 17 second-half buckets.

Standout Performance:

There were lots of big performances in this one. Ronnie Harrell (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Martin Krampelj (10 points, 11 rebounds) both had double-doubles.

Mitch Ballock scored 13 points with six rebounds and four assists, and became just the fifth Creighton true freshman to score in double figures against Nebraska since 1981 — and the first since Terrell Taylor.

But Marcus Foster’s second half was something else. 17 points on 6-10 shooting, eight of them coming in the decisive final four minutes. Both teams hit big shots down the stretch, but Foster hit more of them, and that was a big reason — perhaps the biggest reason — Creighton won.

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