First off, there was an element to this game that, in the first half, was certainly amiss. Creighton’s defense was shutting down Baylor’s offense, primarily shutting down their leading scorer in Manu Lecomte.
Khyri Thomas’s defense was stellar if not perfect throughout the first half. It’s what gave Creighton their 33-24 lead at halftime. It’s what forced Baylor to shoot 1-6 from three and 44% from the field. The Jays were able to force five turnovers and run on a break before Baylor even thought about setting up their defense.
In that first half, with the knowledge that a McDermott coached team typically fares poorly against the zone, the Jays made the most of their relatively easy situations in really fun ways.
At the 11 minute mark McDermott decided to go double post with Manny Suarez and Martin Krampelj. This led to a Suarez dish to Krampelj for an easy score, pulling at the interior of that 1-3-1 zone. That’d put the Jays out to a 16-9 lead, with a breadth of the momentum until a few possessions later where Creighton managed to miss three consecutive shots, getting offensive rebounds on the first two, and failing to grow the lead.
The centerpoint in the Creighton offense was Ronnie Harrell Jr. He played the facilitator in the middle for a good portion of the game, yet he couldn’t quite get his 8-foot jumpers to go down when he had opportunities to take them.
Ronnie finished with 6 points on 2-8 shooting, with two assists, one turnover, and 5 rebounds, a far cry on the glass from what he achieved the night before.
There were magic moments in that first half though, like when Marcus went the length of the court on a fastbreak, put a contested lay-up in that rimmed out, only for Khyri to clean up behind him and get an and-one.
There was the Khyri coast-to-coast on a steal, with his lay-up contested, only for Marcus to plow in a putback dunk, much to the crowd’s pleasure.
The first half, for the Jays, was great. It was a picturesque example of all the fun things they wanted to do against the zone. The second half, however, offered a different look and feel.
When Baylor’s head coach Scott Drew noticed that Khyri was defending damn near a third of the court, he made an adjustment to put a body on him at all times in the second half. Between double ball screens and Lecomte sacrificing his offensive prowess to draw Khyri away from the rest of the play, Baylor’s offense opened like a movie theater’s exit doors 25 minutes into “The Justice League.”
Granted, that doesn’t mean all that much, but it allowed King McClure to hit some open shots and slowly get going.
Eliminating #2 was the first step. The second step was for Baylor to clamp down on the driving lanes. This forced Creighton to toss the ball around the three point line, trying to get someone to bite on a steal attempt, trying to get someone out of position. This worked, to an extent, yet left the middle man open on occasion.
From the 18 minute mark until the 10:50 mark, Creighton didn’t score.
Not a single point.
Yet they still led 42-38.
Martin Krampelj experienced a scoring burst of his own, scoring on back to back possessions - the first on a spin move from the baseline to the bucket - and gave Creighton a 45-40 lead. Both of these scores came on feed from Tyshon, who was frantically trying to get something, anything, going on offense.
Baylor managed to string together a few scores, pushing it to 48-47 at around the 6 minute mark, then Marcus Foster nailed a fadeaway jumper to put the Jays up 50-47.
King McClure then scored on a drive to the bucket, was fouled by Krampelj, and got the and-one. He’d make his freebie.
4 minutes remaining.
Ronnie Harrell, for all that he did and didn’t do, managed to get to the line during the first possession of a tie game. He proceeded to miss the front end, Baylor rebounded, and McClure scored yet again.
For the first time since the opening minutes, Baylor had control of the lead.
Ronnie would tie it up with a pair of free throws, but that vaunted Bluejay offense couldn’t buy a three pointer if they had a million dollars and a machine that was able to control gravity.
With two minutes remaining, still in a tie game, Baylor’s Terry Maston, who hadn’t hit a three all night, nailed one from the top of the key. 55-52. Marcus Foster countered with a floater to make it 55-54, but Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., who’d been quietly putting together a fantastic night, popped in a floater of his own from left of the basket, and pushed the lead to 57-54 with the Jays treading water, relying on Foster to carry the load.
He couldn’t do it alone, but by God he tried. After three consecutive missed threes by Marcus, and a handful of traded possessions, it was 61-54 with 33 seconds left.
Khyri put up a three to try to cut into the lead, but it bounded away. Free throws were exchanged. Mitchell Ballock hit a three.
It was over.
1-16 for three in the second half.