Creighton junior Martin Krampelj stepped on the CHI Health Center court before practice Monday and smiled when he glanced down at the new 3-point line marked with white tape.
It just felt right.
Playing ball for five years in the United States hasn’t stripped the Slovenia native of his fondness for the international game. He’ll shoot around after practice sometimes, purposefully setting his feet a few steps back from the college 3-point line just to replicate the deeper jumper he grew up shooting.
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see him confidently firing away from long range in Tuesday’s opening round of the NIT, where the 3-point line was extended to FIBA distance (22 feet, 1 ¾ inches). Krampelj led the team with 17 points, knocking down a career-best four 3-pointers in Creighton’s 70-61 victory over Loyola-Chicago.
“I know I can shoot that ball, even from the FIBA line,” Krampelj said with a chuckle. “You leave me open and I’m going to make it.”
His jump shots were important Tuesday against a disciplined Ramblers squad that took away the 3-point line for nearly everyone else on Creighton’s squad. Krampelj’s makes helped keep the floor spaced and the lane open.
He hit three in the first eight minutes, contributing to the Jays’ early 11-point lead. His fourth came late in the second half — it was one of a couple of clutch shots from CU that made it tough on No. 7 seed Loyola (20-14) to mount a late-game rally.
Krampelj’s 3-pointer pushed Creighton’s lead out to 11 points with six minutes left. Sophomore Ty-Shon Alexander nailed a 3-pointer that made it 61-51 with 3:22 remaining. Junior Davion Mintz converted a short jumper on the next trip down.
The Jays (19-14) weren’t exactly clean from there, but they held on to clinch their sixth win in the last seven games.
The victory advances No. 2 seed Creighton into the NIT’s second round, where it will face No. 3 seed Memphis. The game will be played at the CHI Health Center within the next week, perhaps on Friday or Monday.
“We beat a well-coached team and a good, fundamentally sound team,” said sophomore Mitch Ballock, who scored all 10 of his points in the paint. “Hopefully that will be good for us going forward.”
There was a bit of a concern with how the Jays would respond Tuesday.
They’d spent the season competing to play in the NCAA tournament. That was the goal.
Then they learned Sunday that they’d just missed the cut. And that was tough. They watched the selection show together. They labored through a practice.
But Monday’s mood was better. Coach Greg McDermott said he saw an improved focus. Tuesday’s pregame shootaround felt like normal.
McDermott complimented his team for its ability to turn the page. If the Jays hadn’t, they may not have liked the result against a motivated Loyola team.
The Ramblers had two senior guards who didn’t want their careers to end. Their coach, Porter Moser, was facing off against his alma mater. The team that reached the Final Four last year took the floor Tuesday as if it had some unfinished business.
But the Jays kept their poise.
They pushed the tempo and attacked the interior of Loyola’s defense, keeping the slower-paced Ramblers from seizing control of the game’s flow. All five of Creighton’s starters finished in double figures, led by Krampelj.
“I just felt we couldn’t get over the hump,” Moser said. “Every time we kind of cut (CU’s lead) and showed some life, they extended it back up to seven, eight, nine, 10. … You’ve got to give them credit. They just kept on answering.”
McDermott said he limited the opportunities for Creighton’s reserves because of the shorter prep time — but freshman Christian Bishop still made an impact with eight points, four rebounds and a block in 10 minutes off the bench. … Loyola scored 40 points in the paint. Only four other teams have finished with more in a game against the Jays all year. … Sophomore Ty-Shon Alexander recorded a career-high seven assists. … The announced attendance was 5,755.