The ball skipped off the inside of the rim twice, popped into the air and nearly reached the height of the backboard before gravity guided it back toward the front of the rim, where it tapped the iron once more and dropped cleanly through the hoop.
Sophomore Mitch Ballock didn’t know how to process it.
He’s been hot before. This is the guy who typically can’t leave the practice facility before he sinks 10 in a row from five spots along the 3-point line. He had that game against Nebraska when he buried seven triples. He dropped 48 one night as a high school senior. He dazzled from distance while at a Steph Curry camp two years before that.
But what happened Saturday night at the CHI Health Center marked a new level of marksmanship from the guard from Eudora, Kansas.
Ballock set a school record and tied a Big East record with 11 made 3-pointers. He missed just once from deep. He finished with a career-best 39 points and led Creighton to a 91-78 win over DePaul.
“It feels good, obviously, when you get in that zone,” Ballock said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a zone like that, so it was pretty fun.”
The Jays (18-13, 9-9) needed it. Their fifth straight win keeps them on the NCAA bubble and clinched a No. 5 seed in this week’s league tournament.
But it wasn’t easy. They were dealing with a feisty Blue Demon squad that had won two games in a row. CU jumped to a 16-2 lead, but DePaul (15-14, 7-11) figured out how to attack Creighton’s sagging defense before the first half was over. It was a battle from there.
Creighton dealt with foul trouble. Junior Davion Mintz collided with DePaul’s Max Strus midway through the second half and did not return. The Jays never trailed, but their lead got cut to 66-63 with nine minutes left.
But junior Martin Krampelj made a layup and senior Kaleb Joseph knocked down a 3-pointer to snatch back some momentum. Ballock put the game away from there.
He pumped and side-dribbled away from a defender and hit a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock to put his team ahead 74-65. Ballock’s 11th 3 came a couple minutes later. He got fouled on another 3-point try and made three free throws to extend the Creighton lead to 82-69 with five minutes remaining.
“Mitch deserves every one of them,” Krampelj said. “He’s the guy shooting that ball in the gym all day long. I come to practice still dressed up, he’s already shooting. I’m going to do treatment, he’s still shooting. It definitely gave us a lift (Saturday).”
Ballock’s 11 3s tied the conference record set by Marquette’s Markus Howard last year. Only two Division I players have made more in a game this season. Ballock also notched a single-game NCAA record for 3-point percentage (91.7) with at least 12 attempts.
His night will surely hold its own place in Creighton lore — this program’s been defined by its sharpshooters lately, and Ballock put on a behind-the-arc display that was reminiscent of performances by guys like Doug McDermott, Ethan Wragge and Kyle Korver.
Ballock didn’t exactly see it coming. So when that 3-pointer bounced off the rim and rattled in midway through the second half, he turned and swung his fist through the air. Then he shouted as the fans rose to their feet.
“I saw it go down and I really didn’t know what to do,” Ballock said. “It was just that type of day.”
Jays earn first-round bye in tournament
No Big East tournament seeds had been set at the start of play Saturday. But by the time CU and DePaul tipped off, after four games had gone final, the two squads knew what they had to do.
The winner of Saturday night’s showdown was getting a first-round bye.
And that prize was certainly worth going to battle for.
The Jays ultimately prevailed in a 91-78 victory, securing the No. 5 seed in the league tournament. Had they lost they would have fallen to the No. 8 seed.
But they earned the win — and the bye. They’ll face No. 4 seed Xavier in the quarterfinals at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I don’t think many people probably had us pegged at tied for third place in this league,” coach Greg McDermott said. “Given some of the things we’ve been through, it’s a pretty incredible achievement for this group of guys that they were able to do that.”
Blue Demons have slow start
DePaul never recovered from its slow start to the game, according to its head coach.
The Blue Demons managed just two points on their first 14 possessions. They missed eight of their first nine shots. They turned the ball over six times during that stretch.
They fell behind 16-2 after eight minutes. They ended up trailing the whole way.
“We were fighting an uphill battle,” coach Dave Leitao said. “We got close but we never really got comfortable, where we found a really good rhythm.”
CU’s improved defense deserves some credit for that. Two months ago, these Jays could not have executed the game plan in the manner they did Saturday, according to McDermott.
“We were all over the place,” he said.
Connor Cashaw and Kaleb Joseph were honored after the game as part of CU’s Senior Day celebration. They thanked their families, teammates and coaches during speeches on the court. … Freshman Marcus Zegarowski recorded a career-high 10 assists. The Jays as a team assisted on 23 of their 29 made field goals. … CU’s 58.0 shooting percentage was its best in more than a month. … Junior Martin Krampelj finished with his seventh double-double of the year. He had 23 points and 10 rebounds. … The announced attendance was 17.083.