Aggression and a bit of fortuitous nature to persevere in the face of such aggression.
Memphis is full of talent. They’re a team with bruisers that’ll beat you to your core. Athletes that will challenge their opposition to a track meet with a full fledged boxing match at every 20 meters.
They’re imposing, fast, and will try to get their opponent to hurt them so they can hurt them back.
That much was true on the opening tip. On a gorgeous night in Omaha, the few thousand fans in attendance and those watching at home were treated to an absolute melee of basketball. It was emotional, a rollercoaster starting at its highest peak and never really coming down from it. The game itself was a microcosm of how basketball is played now instead of then. A blitz of pace that forced your neck to swivel more than a lazy susan in the midst of making tiramisu.
Memphis took the tip and went directly to the basket. No bullshit, no waiting around for an offense to set itself up, no passes thrown. Just directly down the throat, jamming itself into the viewer’s eye and begging you to flinch.
Instead, Marcus Zegarowski ripped the orange orb from Jeremiah Martin’s hands while standing out of bounds. On the ensuing inbound, Raynere Thornton threw a pass too haphazard for Kareem Brewton Jr, and the ball got tipped around as Zegarowski and Martin Krampelj scrambled to get the ball back. The ball ended up in Ty-Shon Alexander’s hands and he quickly flipped the ball up court to Mitch Ballock who promptly laid it in. For a majority of the back and forth first half the Memphis Tigers threw haymakers and the Bluejays countered beautifully with precision jabs to the face.
Whatever Penny Hardaway is cooking up in Memphis is going to blow people away. They’re a superstar away from forming one of the most brutal basketball teams that could ever be assembled. With the remains of Tubby Smith’s tenure walking out the door he did what he could with them, taking them from a slow it down, typical bruiser-esque MAC mirror and formed a goliath that’ll beat the ever loving shit out of whoever steps in their way.
Tonight was an absolute thrill if you’re a devout fan of the Creighton Bluejays. What was on display for forty minutes was a team that refused to back down even when it looked like they’d been beaten into submission, only to rope-a-dope their opponent into gassing themselves out of the ballgame. Whether it was Marcus Zegarowski’s three from the top of the key while time expired in the first half to make it a ten point game at 40-30 or the 8-2 run that Mitch Ballock ventured on to start the second half, these Bluejays turned a track meet into an exploitation of another team’s attempt at outpacing them.
Then there were the referees. My God those poor schlubs. They were picked from the lowest branch of the refereeing tree that permeates college basketball, tossed blindly into Omaha, and found themselves in a ballgame that shined a light on their ineptitude. For a four minute spell while Memphis imposed their will with their unrelenting press, the referees suddenly had no idea how to control any aspect of the game. Their whistles suddenly absent while the Memphis players whooped the ever loving shit out of Creighton while the Jays possessed the ball, only to appear on ticky tack fouls on the other end with Creighton trying to defend, they’d played directly into Hardaway’s hands. The fans rained boos upon these poor striped sacks of flour as Memphis inched their way back into it until the deficit sat at just two points.
Yet it didn’t take away from the game. It only added fuel to the fire. The crowd and atmosphere were full-tilt. What’s removed in these NIT games are the casual observers of a game. They’re replaced by fans, like, real fans who yell and scream and smash their hands together in a delightful applause. That was the gasoline and the referees were fucking around with a butane torch.
From 16:05 to 11:23, Memphis trimmed a 17 point deficit into the aforementioned two point deficit. They did this with pure, unadulterated might, like a M80 going off in a city council’s executive bathroom. A press that was born in the depths of hell with players more than willing to commit hard fouls, with the advantage of no fouls being called. It was maddening for the hometown fans, but a fascinating exercise in destrucive tendencies that this Tiger squad possesses. This was the tenth round of the lightweight fight and Hardaway’s squad did just enough to get that 10th round win.
Then there was a pause. A beat. A moment that seemed to last forever. All it took was a moment for that Memphis squad to take a breath, look around, and feel the physical exertion they’d just poured out to get this game back into striking distance. It was in the media timeout right before they cut it to two points. They even got a jump ball and took possession back after cutting it to two points. Yet they had that moment to see where in the marathon they were, and they hit a wall.
From that point it was clear that McDermott’s squad had outlasted the shitstorm and they had the Tigers on the ropes. Both Antwaan Jones and Kyvon Davenport had fouled out, leading scorer Jeremiah Martin had been bodied by Davion Mintz or Alexander all night and had just 18 points, and the legs and psyche had been burned out completely. After Krampelj exited with four fouls, Christian Bishop came in and damn near secured a double double in an excellent battle of who-can-out-athlete-the-athletes.
It was one of those games where the viewing audience finally came full circle on how talented this Bluejay ballclub has become. How their growing pains had paid off. This game ensured fans that when the Jays are thrown into a fight with junkyard dogs that they can get rabid and get pretty damn bitey.
The Jays will face the winner of the Nebraska/TCU game. Let’s pray to our deity that the Cornhuskers can pull off one more miracle to give us the climax of another game in Omaha.
Oh and Connor Cashaw fucking dunked. I’m not fucking with you.
Connor Cashaw dunked!— (@mjdemarinis) March 23, 2019