BACK IN BUSINESS; CREIGHTON DEALS FORTUNE 500 COMPANY A HUGE LOSS
On a cold and wet day in Omaha, Creighton was tasked with taking on the #3 Villanova Wildcats, something they’d feigned at earlier in the season with little to no success.
Before the game even started it was announced that Bluejay starting forward Ronnie Harrell Jr., would be absent as he injured his foot at some point on Friday, leaving the ultra-thin Bluejay frontcourt as thin as the ice accumulating on your car’s windshield.
Freshman 6’5 sharpshooter Mitch Ballock started in Harrell Jr.’s opening and from the jump it was pretty clear that this smaller, rangier offense still carried some pop.
In the first five minutes of the game, both teams slugged one another with a bombastic array of three pointers, going a combined 8-11 from beyond the arc, the game knotted at 15-all.
It was Khyri Thomas who stepped up big in the half, scoring 15 points on 5-6 shooting from three. He also managed to bottle up the ‘Player of the Year’ in Jalen Brunson, holding him to just 8 points on 3-7 shooting.
Yet, as Villanova does, they went on a 9-0 run between the 4:17 and 2:18 mark, bumping them from a 4-point deficit to a 5-point lead in that stretch. It was done with surgical precision as Jay Wright’s squad slowed the tempo to take the wind out of the crowd’s sails and to maximize efficiency on each possession.
Creighton battled back, though, as Marcus Foster ended the half with a buzzer beating three off a stepback 3 in the eye of Mikal Bridges. Thus, with a two point deficit, the Jays were able to find a little momentum.
Creighton ripped a page out of Jay Wright’s playbook to start the half by posting up Khyri Thomas, tying the game up and continuing the momentum from the first half.
From then on out it was a back and forth affair. Villanova ended up with a 5 point lead after Omari Spellman and Donte DiVencenzo went back to back with a layup and three. Creighton countered after Davion Mintz dealt a vicious step back three, then sank to free throws, tying the game up.
Creighton went on a 8-1 run, utilizing the high flying talents of freshman center Jacob Epperson on lob after lob, and getting Khyri Thomas an open jumper in the lane, giving the Jays a 6 point lead.
Villanova answered with a three from Spellman and a wide open look from DiVencenzo, again.
By the 4:30 mark, and after a little 6-0 run by Jalen Brunson, the Wildcats secured the lead at 68-60. Creighton, during this run, couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, even with 5+ open looks at their disposal. Marcus Foster missed a couple contested threes. Mitch Ballock missed one. It was a travesty, but the energy seemed to be completely sapped for the Jays.
The drought lasted over 4 minutes until Jacob Epperson broke Villanova’s zone by accepting an alley-oop lob. Marcus Foster then answered with a three, giving the Jays a simple 3 point deficit to overcome.
Foster was able to answer the call, sinking a jumper to make it a one point game.
With 1:18 left, Mitch Ballock was fouled by Jalen Brunson and sent to the line to shoot two. One for the tie, one for the lead.
He made both.
Brunson answered almost immediately, putting in a lay-up in the lane after some questionable footwork. A foul was called on Epperson, sending Brunson to the line to complete the and-one. After Brunson cashed, the Wildcats would take the lead back at 71-69.
On a pick and roll designed to get the ball to Epperson, Foster denied the big man an opportunity to tie it up and instead found Ballock in the corner, wide open after Brunson whiffed on stealing the floating pass, and the freshman from Eudora would cash it in.
Jays lead, 72-71. 35 seconds left.
Timeout, Nova. 29 seconds left.
What ensued on the following play was nothing short of insanity. After a missed three from Mikal Bridges to put the Wildcats ahead, a scrum intensified, each team sending a player flying into a pile of bodies at full speed. Only the toughest survive these situations, a rugby match playing out in full view of 18,000+ in attendance and the millions(?) watching at home.
Naturally, Khyri Thomas ended up with the rebound in his hands. Bridges would foul Thomas, sending him to the line for a one-and-one.
DiVencenzo got the ball, with 9 seconds remaining, on the rebound and was promptly fouled by Marcus Foster for some inane reason.
This sent the Michael Jordan of Delaware to the line, shooting two, with an opportunity to win the game for the 3rd ranked Wildcats.
He missed the first.
Made the second.
Tie ballgame, 72-72. Bluejay ball.
As was foretold in legend, Marcus Foster ended up with the ball in his hands as the remaining 9 seconds ticked off the clock. He drove the lane, put up a floater, only to have it viciously rejected by Bridges. The ball flying towards Villanova’s basket, Arcidiacono’s clone boy Collin Gillespie got the ball and tossed up a desperation heave.
The overtime tip was won by the Bluejays with Epperson jumping center and Thomas continued his high scoring affair with a layup out of the gates. Villanova answered back with a jumper from Eric Paschall.
On the next possession, Ballock hit Epperson on a pick and roll alley-oop lob that the Big Epp cashed in. Paschall answered with another jumper, tying the game yet again at 76-76.
Davion Mintz cashed in on a jumper on the next possession, with this overtime starting off at breakneck speeds, the question was who’d break first?
Would it be the Wildcats, led by the national player of the year? Or would it be the decimated Bluejays, led by a ragtag team of scoring masterminds?
It was Villanova.
Paschall went down and missed a lay up, Mintz got the rebound, and the Jays called timeout. Up two, McDermott likely drew up a play to end all plays, with Foster and Epperson executing a pick and roll, except Foster tried to bury a three from the top of the key.
It bounced out of the rim, giving Villanova the opportunity of a lifetime to quell the raucous crowd and potentially take the lead.
Unfortunately, DiVencenzo missed a three. Foster got the rebound.
The crowd erupted.
Thomas, on one of his rare misses of the day, watched a lay up bounce out. The Big Epp, however, grabbed the offensive board and was promptly fouled by DiVencenzo.
Epperson, a freshman who started his season just a few weeks ago, who is still getting limited minutes because he isn’t quite conditioned enough, sank both free throws.
They must grow some massive cajones down in Australia.
Jays lead by four, 80-76. 1:46 left.
What ensued afterwards was a series of misses by Villanova. Brunson got his shit blocked by Defensive Player of the Year Khyri Thomas, then proceeded to lose control of the ball as he attempted a layup, leading to some free throws by Marcus Foster, which bled into a Brunson layup with 1:15 left, which turned into a great fast break opportunity by the Jays as Mintz pushed the ball while Villanova’s defense took a quick smoke break getting back on the other end, finding a streaking Thomas, who got fouled by Phil Booth - which turned into a flagrant one because holy shit he went for Khyri instead of the ball, giving the Jays the ball back after some free throws - then they let Mintz drive and dish to a wide open Ballock under the rim, icing the game for good at 84-78 with 58 seconds left.
From then on, it was the simple measure of making free throws that won the Bluejays the game. Although Bridges canned a three with 18 seconds left to make it a 6 point game, the end was never in doubt from that point.
Hell yeah. Jays win.