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Jays Look Shaky In Opener, Finish Off Western Illinois Regardless 78-67

There’s a floor to this program and hopefully they found it tonight.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Creighton vs Kansas State Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

When Brandon Gilbeck walked onto the court an air of confidence surrounded him like an Armani cologne surrounds a douchey BMW driver. When Western Illinois point guard Kobe Webster drained his first three with a sweet and easy stroke, it was clear that this was going to be the first of many that he made.

Webster, in his Trae Young-esque way, launched up momentum building treys all throughout the first half. Gilbeck, after recording three emphatic blocks, sat most of the first half on the bench after picking up his second foul.

Those two alone set the pace for the Leathernecks tonight as Greg McDermott and his squad tinkered and toyed with the concept of “defense” and “offense,” which to some are the two primary pillars of sport, but to this team are just things they need to work on.

The game started with a very familiar feeling as Martin Krampelj slipped off a pick and roll , received a lob from Ty-Shon Alexander and promptly slammed the ball home. The crowd seemed awash in nostalgia as they immediately received the one thing they wanted most: Martin Krampelj healthy.

Western Illinois clamped down on the pick and roll afterwards and managed to disrupt the Jays offense, sending them into an offensive drought for quite a while, stalling out halfway through, eventually succumbing to an eight point deficit with seven minutes remaining in the half.

Coach McDermott had had enough, called a timeout, and barked at his players and told them to quit sniffing around and start biting.

They responded in kind by going on a 7-0 run, using high percentage shots from Alexander, Krampelj, and Damien Jefferson. They’d tie it moments later on a three pointer by Alexander, the game suddenly rounding itself out, returning to its mean.

Kobe Webster had one last gasp, nailing back to back triples to put the Leathernecks up by six, but that was soon negated when Martin Krampelj rolled one in, and Mitch Ballock sank back to back threes to end the half, giving Creighton a 43-41 lead at intermission.

What we were able to witness is what we feared most this season. The inconsistencies of this young and inexperienced squad reared its ugly head, with a great deal of confusion on defensive switches, a predictable and stale half-court offense, and a silly amount of stupid mistakes that led to turnovers. There’s a lot of talent, just very little feel and knowledge of what to do when the opportunity is right in front of them.

There’s still a lot of panic when a player nails a back cut beautifully, the hands tremble seeing the opening, yet those quaking hands fumble the ball into the ether.

What remains to be seen is whether this team can find a floor and make sure it strays as far away from it as possible. What I fear is that the game that played out tonight isn’t their floor, that there are depths that this team will plumb to find a way to look exorbitantly poor playing basketball.

The past two seasons have offered Bluejay fans the pinnacle of basketball prowess. What they might see this year is the slow climb back to that point, without a franchise-changing players strolling through those steel doors that protect their practice facility.

Connor Cashaw, who I believed to be the “glue-guy” to this squad, got the starting nod. He responded in kind by turning the ball over four times, fouling a three point shooter while he was shooting a three pointer, and failed to put up a single shot.

Davion Mintz seems to have a new shooting stroke and a keen awareness of how this offense is supposed to work, but the offense only goes as far as his teammates can take him, and they need to be in the right spots at the right times, which they certainly weren’t tonight.

Ty-Shon Alexander is a shining star that will blossom into a future great, yet his demeanor when things go wrong, his body language when a turnover happens, can seem to be a detriment. There’s too much frustration for a team that needs to remain open-minded about their abilities, especially when it comes to their potential superstar.

The Jays managed to outpace Western Illinois after everything was said and done, but this was a game they certainly should’ve run away with if things had clicked as they’re expected to.

A win is a win. There will be plenty of time in the film room reviewing this one.