Creighton's defensive strategy baffles Alabama late

by | CBSSports.com
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Elephants might have a reputation as some of the most intelligent animals in the world, but in the waning seconds of Creighton's 58-57 victory in the Round of 64, Bluejays coach Greg McDermott straight up out-smarted Alabama and forced the Tide to take an ugly, contested shot.

When Anthony Grant called timeout with 2.4 seconds remaining, McDermott had his team line up in man-to-man defense before calling his own timeout. The Jays then flashed man again before sinking into a zone defense. Alabama's Trevor Releford started to drive before realizing what was happening. But it was too late, and Releford had to force up a three that was partially blocked by Josh Jones to preserve the win.

"We gave them a misdirection before the timeout," Jones said. "We wanted to show zone and go man. But then we decided to show man and go zone. And Rutherford got matched up to me one-on-one and I kind of bluffed at him and got him off-balance and contested the three."

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There might be an argument that Jones fouled Releford on the shot and that's fine. Jones wouldn't admit it after the game -- "the refs didn't blow the whistle, so it was a clean play" -- but that's beside the point, because Releford never came close to getting the look that Alabama wanted.

And that's thanks to the misdirection play, even if Grant didn't want to admit it afterwards.

"We were looking to go inside with the play," Grant said. "They did a good job. They were man-to-man coming back out of the timeout. They went zone and we figured they were going to go zone, so we tried to overload a corner, tried to pop Releford to the top hoping that maybe we could be able to throw it inside as they got extended.

"But they did a good job, they closed out the ball and affected the shot."

There's no telling why Grant thought Releford would have time to swing a pass with 2.6 seconds on the clock; the obvious move was to have him catch the inbounds and drive on his man. That was clearly Alabama's intention. But when he realized it was zone, he froze, stepped back and tried to launch a three.

And just like that, Creighton walked off the court victorious for the same reasons it won the second half: execution and an impressive application of basketball IQ.

The Bluejays stormed back from multiple double-digit, second-half deficits thanks largely to efficient execution in their half-court offense.

But don't sleep on the job McDermott did coaching his kids up on defense, too. The way the Jays executed zone throughout the second half to limit Alabama's ability to beat defenders and get to the hoop was absolutely critical in advancing to the Round of 32.

"As the half went on, we fell into a two-three zone and were getting some stops and got some good looks offensively and got inside," Doug McDermott, the team's leading scorer and coach's son, said. "Josh Jones made a couple big plays there and Grant [Gibbs] as well, so I'm really proud of the way we executed things in the second half."

Zone isn't par for the course for Creighton -- typically they play man-to-man and let their talent overwhelm MVC opponents. But when faced with an Alabama team that's superior athletically to the Jays, the older McDermott recognized the need to switch things up.

"Our goal in the zone was to try and keep the ball out of the paint, both off the dribble and to try to plug it up so they can't get it to [JaMychal] Green and [Nick] Jacobs down low and then swarm them if they do," Coach McDermott said. "We just made a decision if they're going to beat us, we're going to make them beat us from the perimeter, and our guys executed the zone pretty well."

Alabama tore up Creighton in the first half on the perimeter, hitting a surprisingly efficient four of nine 3-pointers. Considering Alabama made 29.8 percent of their 3's for the season (good for 327th in the nation) it was undeniably frustrating for the Jays.

Utilizing the two-three zone in the second half, McDermott and the Jays forced the Tide into bad shots -- Alabama's shooting percentages dropped across the board.

And then, in a perfect microcosm of the defensive work that the Jays did in the second half, McDermott tricked Alabama into thinking they could penetrate on the final play and forced a bad shot at the buzzer.

It was a bit surprising that Alabama wasn't expecting a little trickery, given that Creighton spent the whole second half flummoxing the Tide with their zone. Maybe elephants do forget after all.

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