Let’s start this off by saying that UNC-Pembroke is a pretty good team. Going 24-8 last season, making the D-II NCAA Tournament, and returning their top four scorers is going to breed some semblance of success.
They gave Creighton fits on the defensive end, wreaking havoc by utilizing a full-court 1-on-1 with whomever was handling the point for the Jays. It spurned the pace that Kaleb Joseph or Davion Mintz tried to push, causing possessions to run later than normal.
It also didn’t help that Creighton’s big man, Martin Krampelj, had his troubles handling the ball and passing out of pressure. He turned the ball over 4 times in his first 7 minutes on the court, leading to points by the Braves on the other end.
When he came out, “Mad Dog” Manny Suarez stepped in and offered a completely different look than Krampelj could offer: a true post presence. In his 9 minutes on the court he went 4-5, including a made three pointer, scoring 10 points with 5 rebounds in the first half.
Yet, as we all knew from the start of this season, Khyri Thomas and Marcus Foster are the catalysts to this whole system of hoops. The offense runs directly through them. They’d combine for 23 of the first half’s 49 points, giving Pembroke fits as their athleticism and skill were on full display - Foster especially. Time after time he’d take an iso and slice through the defense, finishing with a step through or a step back jumper. Thomas had a relatively poor shooting night, but still threw down some nasty dunks:
The point guard play was good, not great, as Davion Mintz and Kaleb Joseph split nearly equal time in the affair, with Joseph coming out ahead in the efficiency category. It’s pretty much a wash at this point, especially since Khyri and Marcus run the whole dang show.
As close as the game was in the first half, it quickly became a measure in futility for the Braves in the second half, as Creighton spaced their lead to 15 and never looked back. As Marcus Foster slowly took over, scoring 6 consecutive points for the Jays, Pembroke began to fade into oblivion, realizing that they had neither the horses or the talent to keep pace.
As the point gap widened, it was time for new Jays like Mitchell Ballock to shine, which he did tremendously, showing great poise on the court while putting his offensive skills to the test in front of a meandering and moderately sparse crowd in Omaha. He managed to pull off an incredible baseline drive to 360 pass to the post, showing an understanding of where all the Bluejay bodies are supposed to be. It was cool to watch such a young talent blossom into something that will be unyielding and overtly cynical hype and over-the-moon expectations as the season wears on. “Is he the next coming of jesus?” a man will ask a radio station eventually. Another man, with a stained wife beater and can of room temperature Coors Light, will ask, “Can he score the most points ever?” A family of C.H.U.Ds will gather nightly underneath the manhole cover on your street and yell, “Mitchell Ballock have you gone to the NBA yet?” I know it will happen, you know it will happen, and there’s not a lot we can do about it.
Tyler Clement eventually came in and played the point with the game winding down and the lead growing over 20. The court was littered with Ty-Shons and Mitchells, Ronnies and Mannys. It was glorious, it was good, it was college basketball finally showing a little more polish.