Welcome to the National Invitation Tournament, a tournament where one team gets to play on their home court again and the other team realizes the folly of their season and gets to play a true road game. Other than the lack of any promotional material during timeouts, the NIT is void of neutrality as the home team gets to bask in the glory of their fanbase during a relatively meaningful post season game. It's like when North Carolina gets to play in Greensboro or Kansas gets to play in Kansas City.
Tonight, we witnessed Creighton straight up ball-out in front of a measley 6,305 fans who cared enough to show support for their hoop ball team. It's a testament to the validity of basketball fans in Omaha; some show up because they got free tickets through their company, and others show up because they love the basketball that's played on the hardwood at the CenturyLink Center. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "Wow, this guy sure seems like an asshole. It was a school night and the season ticket holders had to shell out good, hard-earned money to see this when instead they could watch it on their couch." Absolutely valid point, self, but here's the rub: those who avoided paying American currency to attend and watch this game were brilliant investors, as the two teams that played were in stark contrast to one another: one, the home team, showed up to play a basketball team. The other, let's call them Mississippi's neighbor, showed up and performed at a level so low that I'd imagine St. John's man handling this team. The worst part is that head coach Avery Johnson came into the press conference and preached about his basketball program becoming a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. This may well be true, but for now his team shot 28.3% from the field in a second-tier post season game against a Creighton team that had lost five of their last six games and was ousted in the BIG EAST Tournament by eventual champion Seton Hall.
Now, this isn't necessarily to say that Creighton had no hand in Alabama performing so terribly. The defense was stout; ready. It's as if they witnessed the wrecking ball that is Seton Hall and emulated them, causing seven first half turnovers and collecting three blocked shots to boot. It was refreshing to see a Bluejay squad take on a team that appeared to be bigger and stronger than they and outwill them til' the Crimson Tide rolled gently to shore.
Khyri Thomas was the spark the defense needed, shutting down Retin Obasohan to the tune of allowing just 13 points for the senior guard. What's more is that the leader of this Crimson Tide offense was forced into a 3-10 shooting night, in part because of Thomas's lock down, drag out play. Seemingly every shot was contested, but the energy Thomas provided lit up the rest of the Bluejays, including Malik Albert, (who played 13 minutes and managed one steal and one blocked shot) Geoffrey Groselle, (three blocks and seven defensive boards) and TOBY! Hegner (one blocked shot, three rebounds).
It was the failure to drive and score - presumably Alabama's modus operandi - that troubled the Avery Johnson led team the most. On more than one occasion would Arthur Edwards or Obasohan drive into the trees and end up dropping the ball, causing a pinball effect that resulted in bodies flying everywhere. It was Edward's failed shot attempt (yeah, you read that right) that stirred the Creighton crowd into wondering why this team could've even been on the bubble. Worst of all, it was the second half gameplan - a gameplan implemented with around nine minutes left - that notified even the most casual basketball fan that this Alabama team did not want to continue competing. While Obasohan stalled the ball, Johnson barked from the sidelines at his players to 'hold the ball', a tactic that involved Shannon Hale running to about four feet outside of the top of the key, receiving the ball, and firing it towards the rim. Miraculously, he made the shot, and for the next six consecutive possessions Alabama fired up 3's from anywhere. They made a few, but began to miss as well. They got their deficit to ten points and then watched it slowly get eaten away as their offensive confidence was all but lost on yet another missed 3-point opportunity. It was strange to watch, but made me vastly uncomfortable to see a team make such a desperate attempt to claw back into a game. There was no screen and switch, just bombs away from deep.
It was an ugly, disgusting game to watch. Creighton was a much faster team, so much more so than Alabama that it became troubling to believe that they were strategically placed in similar seedings in this tournament. I have no idea how Alabama was on the bubble, but after my first and probably last experience watching them, I now know that the almighty S-E-C is N-O G-O-O-D A-T H-O-O-P-S.
Creighton will move on to play the winner of St. Bonaventure and Wagner. Personally, I'm hoping Wagner wins so we can do this again later on, perhaps more Bluejay fans will flood the ticket office and dine on some seats they'd never seen a game from.