The Jays definitely would have preferred to avoid first-half foul trouble at the center position Wednesday. They had to switch to their five-guard lineup earlier than planned.
Turns out, though, that worked in Creighton’s favor during an 87-82 victory. In a major way.
Christian Bishop picked up his third foul with 12:36 left in the first half. Kelvin Jones already had one at that point. So the Jays went with Denzel Mahoney at center.
And that super-small-ball group — where no player eclipses 6-foot-6 — sliced up Seton Hall’s defense all night. The Jays forced the Pirates to take their big men off the floor, and then they lit up Seton Hall's shorter/quicker group, too.
“I was kind of forced to (go small) because of foul trouble,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “But Coach (Kevin) Willard decided to put his bigs on the bench. Frankly, that’s probably better for us.”
During conference play, Seton Hall came into the game allowing 0.94 points per possession while holding opponents to 38.7% shooting, leading the league in both statistical categories. It hadn’t allowed a Big East team to reach 80 — until Wednesday.
And while the Pirates’ defense struggled all night to slow CU down, it had the most trouble when Creighton went to its five-guard lineup.
This was the final tally with five guards on the floor Wednesday:
» The Jays were plus-7 overall during 32 possessions with that lineup. They scored 44 points (1.38 points per possession) and shot 16 of 27 from the field (59.3%).
» That group flipped the momentum in the first half with a 15-2 run, turning a five-point deficit into a 37-29 lead with four minutes before halftime. And those same five guys ultimately closed out the win during the game’s final six minutes.
» The super-small lineup’s impact in the first half was most defined by pace. The Jays’ average length of possession was 11.4 seconds with those guys on the floor together before halftime. All three of Ty-Shon Alexander’s made 3-pointers in the first half were early possession looks. CU got a couple layups in transition, too.
» In the second half offensively, the five guards were effective when they spaced the floor and attacked mismatches. Sometimes, Mahoney drove on a slower-footed center. Other times, Marcus Zegarowski created off the dribble. Damien Jefferson hustled his way to several buckets as well.
» One of the notable advantages on defense down the stretch for CU with five guards was that it could switch every screen, making it more difficult for the Pirates to get Myles Powell loose or for them to attack driving lanes. Seton Hall went 5 of 12 from the field with two turnovers from the six-minute mark until the closing seconds.
Other notes from Creighton’s win over Seton Hall:
» Mitch Ballock finished scoreless for the first time this season, missing all seven of his shots. But he still had an impact, according to McDermott. The fact that Seton Hall assigned a defender to stay glued to Ballock created extra room for other CU players to attack.
“That opens up cutting lanes and driving lanes," McDermott said. "The first half we hit some 3s. The second half, we shot a lot of layups because of the way they were spread out.”
» Zegarowski was one of the players who took advantage of the extra room — especially as a distributor. He had eight assists Wednesday, including several clever dimes. He ranks third in Big East play at 5.5 assists per game.
» Jefferson, who was 7 of 10 from the floor Wednesday, now ranks third in league play in field goal percentage at 60.2%.
» Powell finished 3 of 16 from the floor. He ended up with 12 points and four turnovers. According to Ken Pomeroy's data, it was Powell's least-efficient offensive game of the season. And while Creighton needed a team effort to slow him down, Zegarowski said the credit should go to Alexander.
"I thought Ty-Shon was great," Zegarowski said. "And also Jordan Scurry, who played (Powell) in scout, trying to emulate what he does, how he runs off so many screens, and how he creates space. Ty-Shon did a phenomenal job. I was on him for a little bit, but credit goes to Ty-Shon. He gutted it out."
» The Jays finished with 13 second-chance points Wednesday, one off their high in Big East play. They had 14 in their win at Xavier.
» The win over a ranked team marked the 18th such victory for McDermott during his Creighton tenure. He now owns half of the program’s 36 total wins over ranked teams. CU is 3-2 against ranked teams this season.