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Morning After: Marcus Foster’s Late Game Heroics Help Creighton Snatch Victory From the Jaws Of Defeat at DePaul, 76-75

Morning After: Marcus Foster’s Late Game Heroics Help Creighton Snatch Victory From the Jaws Of Defeat at DePaul, 76-75

[Box Score]

Key Stats:

Creighton committed 14 turnovers (10 in the first half alone). The Jays give up 13 offensive rebounds. On those two stats alone (points off turnovers and second chance points), CU was outscored 30-20. Throw in DePaul’s 12-4 edge in made free throws, and the Blue Demons are likely wondering how they let this one slip away.

(Hint: Marcus F’ing Foster.)

The Jays did have 18 fastbreak points, matching a season-high in Big East games. They got 34 points in the paint, equaling DePaul’s output. And here’s a fun one, considering it wasn’t that long ago that social media and message boards talked a lot about Coach Mac’s teams being unable win close games in the post-Doug McDermott Era: Creighton’s had seven games this year that were a one-possession game with five minutes left, and they’ve won five of them.

(Though it helps to have Marcus F’ing Foster on your side.)

Standout Performances:

There were a lot of standouts, but we’ll start with Ronnie Harrell, who had 10 points, eight rebounds, and five assists, making plays all over the court for both himself and his teammates. He hit a pair of three-pointers. He was even credited with a block.

Khyri Thomas scored 18 points, every one of them important in a one-point win, but it was his lockdown defense on DePaul’s leading scorer Max Strus that turned what ended up being a tossup game in the Jays’ favor. Strus scored 11 points on 3-11 shooting, including 1-6 from behind the arc, in 37 minutes of play, and two of his three made baskets came late in the first half when Thomas headed to the bench with two fouls. He’d been averaging over 17 a game before he got a taste of Khryifense.

Manny Suarez was pressed into duty when Toby Hegner got into foul trouble and Jacob Epperson proved ineffective defending Marin Maric — the Blue Demons’ center used an array of savvy post moves to score time after time. Hegner did a better job of slowing him down, but nearly fouled out in the process. Epperson was simply not strong enough or experienced enough to put up any resistance. Enter Suarez. He played 10 minutes, all in the second half, and used his bigger frame to battle Maric and if not totally stop him from scoring, at least make him work much harder for it. Maric had scored four straight layups early in the second half when Suarez checked in and was single-handedly wrecking the Bluejay defense. He’d go nearly six minutes without a bucket, as Suarez combined with Tyler Clement to double team the post — with Clement covering the weak side.

It worked reasonably well, and was a big part of why this was Suarez’ best game as a Bluejay. His line was decent, as well: three points, three assists, four rebounds, and a block. The night ended on a sour note for him, unfortunately. With two minutes to go and the Jays clinging to a 73-70 lead, he pulled down a rebound and after running in transition, Marcus Foster decided to pull the ball back out and drain clock. He passed to Suarez at the top of the key, likely intending for Suarez to work the ball around the perimeter. Instead, with over 20 seconds on the shot clock, he immediately launched a three pointer, violating one of the cardinal rules of basketball — knowing the time and score. It missed, DePaul’s Eli Cain promptly drained a three on the other end to tie it, and Suarez spent the rest of the night on the bench.

As for Clement, he played the final 12 minutes of the game after both Davion Mintz and Ty-Shon Alexander had rough nights defensively, and weren’t having much success running the offense either. In addition to his solid help defense in the post on Maric, he ran the offense efficiently and hit two absolutely huge three-pointers (and had a third nearly go in). He also, inconceivably, blocked a shot.

And then Marcus Foster. What can you say? The senior guard scored 29 points — 19 of them in a brilliant second half where he was 7-11 from the floor and 4-5 on three pointers — and hit the game-winning three with 14 seconds to play.

Recap & Analysis:

Despite talk from players and coaches before the game of how important it was to take care of business in games they were supposed to win, the Jays did the opposite of taking care of business in the first half. They committed 10 turnovers in that opening stanza, were outrebounded 20-15, trailed by as many as 10 points, and had three starters in foul trouble (Khyri Thomas, Ronnie Harrell, and Toby Hegner all had two).

Thankfully, they still had Foster. He got his night started with this steal and dunk:

…followed it up with this backdoor cut for a wide-open slam:

And then had a third dunk, this time schooling DePaul’s Justin Roberts on the way to the rim:

Khyri Thomas wasn’t content to let Foster have *all* the fun, and turned this steal into a dunk of his own:

Ronnie Harrell got in on the action, too, ripping down a rebound and taking it coast to coast for a layup:

Despite those highlights, the Jays trailed 36-31 at the break and were extraordinarily lucky to be down by only five. A 10-4 run to open the second half gave them the lead, 41-40, punctuated by this dunk from Foster — keyed up by a nice bounce-pass from Davion Mintz:

But DePaul answered right back, and after three straight buckets by Marin Maric and a three-pointer by Max Strus — his only basket all night with Khyri Thomas guarding him — took a 53-48 lead with 12 minutes to play. Jump-started by the play of both Tyler Clement and Manny Suarez, Creighton then began a stretch where they made eight consecutive shots. Thomas started the run by stealing a pass and racing down the floor for a layup:

Clement blocked a shot by DePaul’s Jaylen Butz, and moments later Foster hit a three from beyond NBA range to cut the lead to 55-53. He followed a bucket by DePaul with another three on the next possession to make it 57-56. And then Clement hit back-to-back threes, the first one assisted by Suarez to tie the game at 59, and the second to give them the lead:

Suarez converted a layup the next trip, and then Mitch Ballock drove to the rim for this basket that gave Creighton their largest lead of the night at 66-61 with 6:27 to play:

Foster would score eight of the Jays’ final 10 points, beginning with this play where he barreled to the rim, initiated contact, made the basket, and drew a foul:

Thomas and Suarez each made the front-end of one-and-ones to keep the Jays ahead, despite an inability to get a stop defensively — Paul Reed nailed a jumper to cut CU’s lead to 70-68, then Maric made a bucket at the rim to make the score 71-70. Foster answered with a huge shot to give the Jays a 73-70 lead. And then they finally got the stop they needed, forcing Max Strus into a long three-pointer and clearing the rebound. With 2:13 to play, they had the opportunity to make it a two-possession game and put DePaul behind the eight-ball.

Instead, Suarez took his ill-advised three — we shall never speak of this shot again — and Eli Cain tied the game at 73 with a three on the other end. Then the Blue Demons’ Paul Reed stole the ball from Thomas, and at the end of a long possession, they got the ball to Maric for a dunk and the lead. It was 75-73 DePaul with 63 seconds to play, they had all the momentum in the world and a small-but-kinda-loud home crowd behind them. It looked like the game had slipped out of Creighton’s hands.

The Jays would take four shots on the ensuing possession. First, Tyler Clement took a three-pointer from the corner in rhythm that rolled in-and-out. Thankfully, Toby Hegner knocked the ball in the air to prevent DePaul from rebounding it, and Thomas dove to the floor to corral it. They took timeout to draw up a play, and put the ball in Foster’s hands. He drove inside, but his shot was blocked by Eli Cain. The ball landed out of bounds, giving Foster another chance, but this time his 12-foot jumper misfired. Hegner again secured the offensive board, and with the shot clock off, Foster had one more chance.

He would not be denied a third time.

With the ball at the top of the key and the clock ticking down, Hegner came out to set a ball screen on Max Strus, who was guarding Foster one-on-one. The idea was to allow Foster to drive left, where he could either drive or get off a three-pointer. Foster assumed (correctly) that if he drove left, DePaul would switch the ball screen and he’d end up with the long arms of 6’9″ Paul Reed draped over him. So he continued going right, in spite of Hegner’s screen, and that meant Strus continued to guard him. Foster got him to bite on a dribble-move towards the basket, giving him just him just enough room to get off a shot when Strus took one step back. And then this happened:

There was still 10 seconds left, though, and the Jays only had a one-point lead. DePaul called timeout to plot out a way to win the game, and everyone in the building assumed the play would run through Marin Maric. He’d been almost unstoppable in the second half, and all they needed was a layup to win. And if the Jays committed a double-team to contest his shot after catching it, that would leave someone else open for a game-winner. On the other hand, Creighton was 10 seconds of solid defense away from a win. Could they do it?

With Maric covered, the inbounds pass came to Justin Roberts, who dribbled to his right with Foster guarding him closely. He handed it off to Strus, who tried to get the ball to Maric — it looked like DePaul was trying to find a mismatch in the Jays’ ball screen defense, with Maric setting a screen and slipping off for an open shot. But he was instead completely blanketed by the Bluejay defense, leaving him no room to operate. With time ticking down, Strus decided to try and take a desperation three himself, and instead had the ball stripped away by Toby Hegner to end the game.

On a night where upsets were happening everywhere you looked — Villanova and Seton Hall both lost at home, and in the B1G, #3 Purdue was also upset at home — the Jays figured out a way to survive in a game where they played less than their best.

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