On the eve where Markus Howard will own tomorrow’s headlines with his 52 point performance in the Golden Eagle’s overtime win against Providence, St. John’s and Creighton most certainly played a basketball game.
Two years ago, when a very undisciplined and poor St. John’s team came into the CenturyLink for the first time under head coach Chris Mullin, the Johnnies got the doors blown off of them while Mullin hit the showers early after blowing a gasket.
What we witnessed tonight in Omaha was, essentially, the polar opposite.
Creighton, known for their high powered offense, struggled in the waning moments of the first half, going 0-for on their final 5 field goal attempts of the half, opening the door for the Johnnies to make their mark.
They did just that.
Before we get into those nitty gritties, let’s start at the when the ball was tipped.
Marcus LoVett did not dress for the game. Shamorie Ponds, the assumed star for the Johnnies, did. He’d been out for the past few games nursing a knee injury.
Ponds, as it turns out, wasn’t the scoring threat he once was earlier in the season, when he’d play hero ball and take 24 shots. In this affair he was a facilitator on offense, dishing to Bashir Ahmed on baseline cuts, making extra passes, and doing all the small things a point guard should do.
Most importantly, he and his teammates kept careful control of the ball, committing just 3 turnovers in the first half.
Creighton relied mostly on Marcus Foster to get things going. McDermott also reached into his bench and asked for the talents of Mitchell Ballock, giving him a large bulk of minutes in the first half. He’s never been shy about letting his freshmen loose on the Johnnies - remember Justin Patton at Carnesecca Arena?
It didn’t exactly work out like Patton in ‘17, however, with Ballock seemingly lost and out of rhythm from the jump, causing friction in the offense, trying to force things that just weren’t there.
That St. John’s defense is something to marvel at, rolling along Creighton’s offense like water down a mountain stream, keeping an almost uneasy fluid pace even against the Bluejay transition. No one had any room to breathe for the Jays, except for Martin Krampelj as he completely overmatched anyone St. John’s could throw at him. Other than that, the Johnnies were going toe to toe with their more efficient, equally athletic brethren. And they were beating them, soundly.
As the Jays went cold to end the half, the Johnnies picked things up and hit the gas pedal. Shamorie Ponds hit a three from just inside the center court logo. Then there was the feed to Bashir Ahmed cutting baseline. Then it all slipped into a 43-36 halftime lead, all the momentum going into the locker room behind a calm, cool, collected Chris Mullin.
The scoring woes for the Jays continued into the second half. A heady mix of Justin Simon, Bashir Ahmed, and Shamorie Ponds got them out to a 10 point lead at 56-46.
Then, for whatever reason, because Omaha happens to have some of the more intelligent basketball fans that have graced the prairies, the crowd got into it. With the ground seemingly shaking, Creighton forced a couple of defensive stops.
The crowd roared some more.
Then, former Jay Gregory Echenique was shown on the jumbotron.
The crowd became unglued.
From that point on, Creighton went on a 20-4 run to take back control of the game. This was done primarily by Martin Krampelj dunking, laying the ball in, yelling things in Slovenian that I cannot understand, while Marcus Foster got to the tin.
St. John’s, for all that they’d done, was losing, not to the Bluejays, but to the 16,000+ in attendance, for each offensive possession the Johnnies had, they were met with a wall of deafening noise. Shamorie Ponds hucked up desperation shots. The Johnnies couldn’t hit a lick.
Yet, when the huge run was over, St. John’s readied the ship and that vaunted defense took over again. With that defense came turnovers, and with those turnovers came easy baskets. While they treaded water, they found their legs, and they pushed this one to the brink.
While free throws were missed galore towards the end, the Jays held a 73-71 advantage towards the end.
With the ball.
With 21 seconds left, coming out of their own timeout.
10 seconds on the shot clock.
What transpired was something out of a traditional hero story, with the struggling - offensively - Khyri Thomas with the ball in his hands, in the corner, launching up a three.
It clanged once off the far side of the rim, kicked straight back, and fell into the hoop.
Tariq Owens tried his damnedest to make a three in desperation, but alas, it clanged off. Who other than Ronnie Harrell, our folkhero, to grab the rebound, get fouled, and sink both free throws to ice the game.
Creighton gets Georgetown in D.C next on Saturday, while St. John’s hosts DePaul on Saturday as well.