Creighton men’s basketball spent all week figuring out ways to limit NC State’s Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner.
It paid off. CU shrugged its shoulders as Smith popped off for 32 points in Creighton’s comfortable 72-63 first round win on Friday.
“You know, in this tournament you put the entirety of your focus into Game 1, and you just have to survive and advance,” coach Greg McDermott said. “They talk about it all the time.
We beat a good team today, and we're going to play another good team on Sunday.”
Good team, indeed.
After seeing UC Santa Barbara walk into its locker room at half with a one point lead Friday, Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears had enough. They outscored the Gauchos by 19 points through the final 20 minutes to coast for a good chunk of the half.
Creighton will play Baylor at 6:10 p.m. Sunday, with the game televised on TBS.
Make no mistake. UCSB guard Ajay Mitchell is a talented hooper, and he and forward Miles Norris picked their spots inside the teeth of Baylor’s interior defense to make things interesting for a while.
Then came the biggest problem the Bears pose: Their guard tandem. One even scarier than NC State’s.
Star freshman Keyontae George. Veteran studs LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler. The three put their powers together to make for one Baylor’s most potent offenses in the Drew era — ranked second in the country by KenPom.
Even on a day where George shot just 2 for 9 for nine points, the other two combined for 33 points, 20 of which came in the second half.
Delegating who’ll defend who will be as difficult as anything CU has to discuss all weekend.
If it’s any preview for Sunday’s matchup, sophomore Trey Alexander did all he could to execute CU’s gameplan for Smith. The projected NBA Draft pick was always going to be difficult to contain.
But forcing Smith to score 32 on 27 shots — all either by way of wildly wrapping around Ryan Kalkbrenner’s 7-foot-1 frame or hitting short jumpers with a man on his hip — is nothing to scoff at.
If nothing else, Alexander found his way around one final screen to get a piece of Smith’s lost shot and seal the game. He’s seen some difficult assignments this season, but it’s tough to think of many like Smith.
The Bluejays limited Smith’s teammates in the meantime, and sophomore Ryan Nembhard made life tough for Joiner. The Ole Miss transfer finished with 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting, plenty of which came with Nembhard as the primary defender.
CU will need shades of his defense from Friday to remotely consider limiting Baylor’s loaded backcourt.
As for their frontcourt, the Jays took a blow when redshirt freshman Mason Miller was helped off the floor during the first half before sitting out of the remainder of Friday’s game with an apparent ankle injury.
As of Friday afternoon, there is no word on when Miller will return to action.
“I think the MRI, the X-ray, whatever they did was negative in terms of anything worse than a sprain,” McDermott said. “But the grade of the sprain I don't think we'll know until he gets up tomorrow and gets a little treatment tonight.”
Photos: Creighton men face NC State in first round of NCAA tournament