FORT WORTH, Texas — A mistake-filled first half kept Creighton from building a sizable lead at the break, and the Jays suddenly unraveled after halftime in a 71-58 defeat at TCU in the NIT quarterfinals Tuesday night.
CU gave up a 16-0 run to start the second half and ended up shooting just 25.7 percent during the final 20 minutes, wilting away down the stretch as the energetic and opportunistic Horned Frogs advanced with relative ease.
It was a disappointing finish to the season for the Jays (20-15), who had won seven of their last eight games. But according to coach Greg McDermott, Tuesday’s outcome did not detract from the progress his team showed over the past few weeks.
“We took a big step forward,” McDermott said on his postgame radio show. “Given everything that’s happened in our program this year — with the injuries, some off-court things and some really tough, heartbreaking losses — to be sitting at 13-13 with a young group and to figure out a way to dig yourselves out of it is really a credit to them.”
They just couldn’t finish the year off the way they’d hoped.
No. 1 seed TCU (23-13) had a lot to do with that Tuesday.
The Horned Frogs forced 12 CU turnovers in the first half. There were traveling calls and shot clock violations. The Jays had a couple passes sail well over the intended target and a few other passes get intercepted.
As a result, No. 2 seed Creighton wasn’t able to create early separation with its 11-of-18 shooting start. It managed just a 33-30 halftime lead.
Then TCU scored on its first nine possessions of the second half and never looked back. CU tried to keep pace by firing from distance, but it made just four of its 21 3-point tries after the break.
“We had a rough shooting night from our starting guard court,” McDermott said on his postgame show. “That’s going to happen once in a while, you just hope it doesn’t happen on the same night.”
Sophomore Mitch Ballock led the Jays with 14 points. Ty-Shon Alexander and Christian Bishop both scored 10 points. CU played the final 16 minutes without junior Martin Krampelj, who appeared to roll his ankle when he landed on a TCU player’s foot after attempting a 3-point shot.
The defeat ends the collegiate careers of seniors Kaleb Joseph and Connor Cashaw, who played integral leadership roles for this team. McDermott credited those two afterward for their intangible contributions.
The Jays missed their goal of playing in the NCAA tournament, but they played their best at the end — rallying to finish in a four-way tie for third place in the Big East and reaching the NIT quarterfinals.
“I’m extremely proud of those two seniors,” McDermott said. “I’m so proud that they stuck with this young group to help mentor this young group during some tough times this season.”
Now the offseason begins. The Jays have an underclassman-heavy roster, but there will be some storylines to track right away.
Creighton placed assistant coach Preston Murphy on administrative leave following the filing of a federal indictment that accused assistant coaches of receiving bribes in meetings with an aspiring agent. The related court case goes to trial next month.
Elsewhere, McDermott mentioned Tuesday that CU will hit the recruiting trail. It’ll be in the market for high school players and transfers, according to McDermott. The Jays currently have two open scholarships for next year.
And then there’s Krampelj, who’ll now ponder whether to forgo his senior season to start his professional career. The 6-foot-9 forward from Slovenia excelled during the second half of the year. McDermott said they’ll talk about what’s next very soon.
“Martin’s got a difficult decision to make,” McDermott said. “I certainly understand it. He’s 24 years old. He’s been hurt three times with an ACL. Does he want to start his professional career or does he want to come back for another year? Those are some discussions that we’ll have in the coming weeks.”