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Creighton Falls at St. John’s Despite Alexander’s Big Day

by Feb 25, 2024Creighton Mens Basketball

Creighton Bluejays guard Trey Alexander

No. 15 Creighton men’s basketball followed its win over No. 1 UConn with a letdown on Sunday, falling to St. John’s 80-66 at Madison Square Garden.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

Tough Matchup

Coach Greg McDermott said heading into the game that St. John’s was a difficult matchup for Creighton’s drop defense because of the Red Storm’s proclivity for mid-range jumpers.

In the first meeting with the Johnnies, Creighton held them to 65 points and 40.6% shooting. Sunday was a different story.

Ryan Kalkbrenner did a terrific job making the Johnnies pay whenever they tested him around the basket, finishing with a career-high eight blocks. St. John’s shot just 11-of-22 in the restricted area and 6-of-16 on paint shots outside the charge circle. St. John’s also shot just 2-of-8 on 3-pointers.

Where the Red Storm did its damage is the mid-range area — the zone where Creighton excels at forcing tough shots. St. John’s shot 15-of-26 (57.7%) on 2-point jumpers outside of the lane.

“Congrats to St. John’s, they played a heck of a game,” McDermott said. “[Daniss] Jenkins has obviously been difficult for us to stop. I was concerned coming in — what we do really well defensively is what forces this team into what they do really well. We got away with it at home; we weren’t able to get away with it today. Anytime we tried to be a little bit more aggressive, they made the extra pass and turned a good shot into a better shot, really the entire afternoon. Twenty-four assists, three turnovers — we don’t give up a lot of assists on our defense, we haven’t all season long, but they moved it so well today and found the open guy.”

Creighton played St. John’s to a draw with eight second-chance points apiece (despite giving up 15 offensive rebounds), but the Red Storm’s mid-range mastery coupled with Creighton’s dysfunctional day on offense (13 turnovers leading to 18 points on the other end, 39.7% shooting overall, 6-of-26 from 3) was too much for the Bluejays to overcome.

Creighton went through a couple extended scoring droughts in the first half to dig a 13-point deficit at halftime, but the Jays settled in a bit in the second half and trimmed the lead all the way down to five. However, the Red Storm fired back with Jenkins leading the way, putting together a 15-4 run to stretch the lead out to 16 with less than three minutes to play.

Jenkins was the star of the day for St. John’s, picking Creighton apart all day en route to a 27-point, six-assist performance on 12-of-18 shooting with one turnover. Jenkins scored 15 of his 27 in the second half including nine straight during that game-sealing run. Jordan Dingle got hot in the second half as well, scoring 12 of his 18.

“We put different bodies on [Jenkins],” McDermott said. “Trey started on him, we put Steven on him a little bit, Bello was on him. And then at times we got a little more aggressive with the ball screen, but as I said earlier, when we did that, they seemed to get out of it and make a play for each other. He was terrific today and then when we kind of slowed him down a little in the second half then Dingle really hurt us with that mid-range game. Not a lot of teams shoot it like they do from the mid-range and they were obviously elite today, one of the better performances from the mid-range I’ve coached against.”

One-Man Show

Jenkins put on a show for St. John’s, but it was Trey Alexander who led all scorers. The junior finished with a season-high 31 points, shooting 12-of-23 from the field (4-of-8 from 3) and 3-of-4 from the foul line. Alexander scored at all three levels throughout the game and also dished out three assists.

However, he was the only Bluejay that made more shots than he missed. Baylor Scheierman finished with 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting (1-for-10 from 3). Steven Ashworth scored nine points on 3-of-9 from the field (1-of-6 from 3). Kalkbrenner flirted with a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and the eight blocks but also only shot 5-of-11 from the field and missed a few around the basket he normally makes.

“I feel like I played all right,” Alexander said. “I feel like there were a couple of shots where I kind of rushed. But as a team, I know that we’re going to make shots in the future. I know that Baylor’s not going to go 1-for-10 on any given night. I know that we’re going to get Kalk more touches in the paint. I know that Steven is going to make half the shots that he takes. So I’m not really worried about us making shots. It’s more about us on the defensive end that I’m worried about, just us being able to find that teeth and making sure that we can stop opponents because we like to play in transition. For us to do that, we’ve got to get stops and I feel like they made a lot of tough shots today, a lot of mid-range jumpers, so we weren’t really able to get out in transition as much as we wanted to.”

Stops and transition offense played a big role in the runs Creighton made in each half, but halfcourt execution was a struggle for the Jays most of the game. Creighton had a tough time dealing with the Red Storm’s pressure on and off the ball, leading to three shot clock violations in the first half alone.

“I felt like it was sticky at times,” Alexander said. “I remember Mac talking in one of the media [timeouts] that we were kind of holding the ball, waiting for a ball screen a little bit. I felt like it was kind of apparent we weren’t moving the ball as well as we usually do today. I think we just have to be tougher with the ball and be able to get open. If nobody’s open you really can’t swing it as much as you want to. Like Mac said, kudos to St. John’s for having a good game plan coming in. I think there’s a lot of things we can do better moving forward.”

Loss Implications

St. John’s is 49th in the NET, which makes Sunday a quadrant two loss for the Jays since it came on the road. On its own, the loss isn’t a terrible one.

However, the win over the Huskies on Tuesday vaulted Creighton into the three-seed realm with a chance to climb to the two-line with a strong finish. Immediately giving up some of that ground with a loss to a bubble team likely ends that dream, and the path doesn’t get any easier the rest of the way.

The loss also dropped Creighton into fourth place in the Big East standings at 11-6, a half-game back of Seton Hall — who will be visiting CHI Health Center Omaha on Wednesday night. If the Bluejays remain in the four spot, they’d likely see top-seeded UConn in the semifinals rather than in the championship game, should Creighton give itself a better chance to win the next time the Jays head to Madison Square Garden.

Marquette is currently the No. 2 seed at 11-4, and Creighton will host the Golden Eagles on Saturday.

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