Creighton men’s basketball defeated Loyola Chicago 70-61 in the first round of the NIT, earning their 7th straight postseason win at home.
No. 3 seed Creighton’s offense kept up the pressure throughout the game. Through the entire contest, Loyola’s only lead was in the first minute of the game when they were up 3-0 . Junior forward Martin Krampelj led the Bluejays offense throughout, leading the team in points and rebounds, posting 17 and eight respectively. Krampelj opened the contest strong, going 3-4 from 3-point range in the first eight minutes. The team shot 27-55 for field goals and 9-25 from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Mitch Ballock, freshman guard Marcus Zegarowski, junior guard Davion Mintz and sophomore guard Ty-Shon Alexander all racked up double digit points as well. At the postgame conference, Loyola guard Clayton Custer acknowledged the talent of the Bluejays’ offense. “I think we knew coming in that they were going to be really fast… they have five guys that can shoot all the time.”
Bluejay freshman forward Christian Bishop had a strong showing off the bench. He began effectively relieving Krampelj when midway through the first half, he blocked Loyola’s Christian Negron to then run down the court and receive an alley-oop layup, bringing the crowd to their feet and contributing to a 10-0 run. Postgame, head coach Greg McDermott applauded Bishop, saying he “was really instrumental of making some things happen when Martin was out... I thought Christian was outstanding.” Bishop finished with eight points, four rebounds and a block in 10 minutes on the court.
Several of Loyola’s top scorers had slow nights due to tough Bluejay defense. Senior guard Marques Townes had posted 18.1 ppg shooting 46 percent from the field in the last 10 games, but Tuesday night was held to only two points on 1-8 shooting. Townes also struggled in Loyola’s MVC Conference Tournament, shooting 3-17 after winning the MVC regular season Player of the Year. Another leader for the Ramblers, Clayton Custer, shot 3-8 from the floor. This year, Loyola was 12-1 when Custer shot above 50 percent from the field, and 8-12 when below.
After the game, McDermott acknowledged the difficulty of refocusing away from March Madness and toward the NIT after Sunday’s Big East Tournament loss to Xavier. “Sunday was really hard for us… the goal that we had held on to all year was gone. And now you have to refocus in a very short period of time against a team that’s very hard to prepare for and very well coached.” Loyola is coached by Creighton alumnus Porter Moser. When asked how hard it was to move past Sunday’s loss and bring energy to the Loyola game, Ballock said, “It was extremely hard. Like Mac [McDermott] said, our goal here was to play in the NCAA Tournament, and my goal coming in, Mac and I talked about it early in my freshman year, was we wanted to do four years when we were here. And obviously not holding up to that, not reaching that goal this year is obviously a tough turnaround.” He did, however, see value in playing the NIT. “You kind of just have to keep perspective with what you’ve got going forward, I mean we have the opportunity to play another game… I was stoked to play even though it’s not in the Tournament.”
While an attendance of 5,755 fans was well below CHI Health Center Omaha’s average of 17,000, the crowd was involved and loud the entire contest. A foul from Ty-Shon with five minutes to go drew boos from the crowd. Alexander then followed up with a 3-pointer a minute and a half later that brought standing cheers. The team encouraged attending fans to donate via text message to United Way of the Midlands for surrounding communities impacted by the recent flooding.
Creighton will play third seed University of Memphis, the date of which will be announced on Wednesday.