GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands — Sophomore Ty-Shon Alexander was standing 28 feet from the bucket when he jab-stepped to his right.
Perhaps on a different night he’d take a dribble in that situation. Maybe he’d even drive into the heart of the defense. The shot clock had dipped under 10 seconds, after all.
But no, not Wednesday. Not against No. 16 Clemson, a defensive-minded team that used its athleticism and length to force CU into more of a one-on-one approach. Someone had to step up. Alexander was ready.
He just needed a little more space.
Alexander still had more scoring to do after he drilled that deep 3-pointer with seven minutes left. That bucket highlighted his standout performance, though. The North Carolina product finished with a career-high 36 points — the most by a CU player in four years — and led the Jays (5-1) to an 87-82 upset victory over the Tigers (5-1) in the Cayman Islands Classic title game.
“Coach just told me to come in and be confident, and do everything I’ve got to do to get the team a win,” Alexander said in a postgame interview on Stadium’s online broadcast of the game.
He certainly followed coach Greg McDermott’s advice.
Alexander made nine of his 16 shots, including seven 3-pointers. He spotted up in transition. He nailed pull-up jumpers after maneuvering around ball screens. He attacked and earned trips to the free-throw line — he made all 11 of his foul shots.
It could have been the breakaway layup — the game’s first bucket — that helped him settle in Wednesday. Alexander brought that up in his postgame radio interview. McDermott credited Alexander for his offseason work. Former CU player Justin Patton called Alexander a “gym rat” on Twitter after the win.
One thing was clear against Clemson: Alexander did not lose his aggressive mentality.
“I got a layup to start and then I worked on my outside game,” Alexander said on the Jays’ post-game radio show on 1620 AM KOZN. “When that started happening, I started making a lot more shots. Then I just knew, it was on.”
His production helped Creighton maintain control of the game nearly the whole way.
The Jays trailed for just 47 seconds. They were up by as many as 13 in the second half. It wasn’t until the final seconds that Clemson pulled within one score.
Three missed free throws and a turnover helped Clemson trim Creighton’s lead to 83-80 with 22 seconds left.
But junior Davion Mintz hit two free throws and then sealed the win with a two-handed dunk in transition.
The celebration began from there. The team posed for photos with the tournament trophy. Mintz hoisted up the hardware and displayed it to a rowdy collection of Jays fans who had packed into John Gray Gymnasium all week. The players doused McDermott with water in the locker room.
Wednesday’s win capped an impressive three-day stretch for Creighton, which shot 56 percent from the floor and averaged 91.3 points in three games. The Jays had struggled to find their groove offensively before the tournament, but they were in rhythm each night — even against a Clemson team that ranked seventh nationally in defensive efficiency. The Tigers surrendered 80 points four times last year.
They had no answer for Alexander and the Jays, though.
He already had tallied 26 points when he held the ball with the shot clock winding down late in the second half. Clemson seemed to be making a push, scoring on four of its previous six possessions.
But Alexander delivered the response.
He backed the defender off by stepping forward with his right foot. Then he rose up. Cash.
That 3-pointer put Creighton ahead 69-59 with seven minutes left. He waved both hands in the air, shouting and gesturing to the crowd.
“Ty’s blessed with the ability to make some tough shots,” McDermott said on the postgame radio show. “He’s also blessed with a lot of confidence. But that confidence comes from the work that he put in last spring and the summertime.
“To his credit, man, he’s improved in every facet of the game.”