Creighton's shooting, balanced attack send Akron packing

League: NCAA Basketball

Posted on: 22 Mar, 2024 at 04:04 AM

Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Kalkbrenner racked up 23 points and eight rebounds, Baylor Scheierman added 15 points and 13 boards and hot-shooting Creighton took care of Akron 77-60 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday afternoon.

The third-seeded Bluejays (24-9) shot 56.5 percent from the floor and a season-high 58.8 percent from 3-point range (10 of 17) to advance out of the first round for the fourth straight tournament. They will face No. 11 Oregon in the next round in the Midwest Region. The Ducks beat Dayton 87-73 in the first round.

"As we got that lead we really made it a point to make sure we played through Kalkbrenner," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "I thought the guys did a good job of picking their spots. ... I think they were really good 3s for us against a team that's been elite all season in taking away 3s."

All five Creighton starters reached double figures, as Trey Alexander scored 19 points and Mason Miller and Steven Ashworth each supplied 10. Creighton made 7 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half alone and won the rebounding battle 38-26.

Enrique Freeman powered No. 14 Akron (24-11) with 21 points and 14 rebounds. It marked Freeman's 31st double-double, tying David Robinson (Navy) and Armando Bacot (North Carolina) for the single-season record.

"The accolades feel nice," Freeman said, "but like coach (John Groce) said, I just feel real gratitude for how this team ... worked very hard, and I think we did something very special in Akron."

Ali Ali added 14 points for the Zips, who turned 14 Creighton turnovers into 14 points.

The Bluejays made 8 of 10 shots to start the game, including all three of their 3-pointers, yet they never led by more than four. Freeman knocked down three triples in the opening five minutes to buoy Akron.

Kalkbrenner put up 11 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer and a two-handed jam, but the Bluejays were hurt by seven turnovers. Nate Johnson pilfered Scheierman in the backcourt and fed Tavari Johnson to forge a 27-27 tie at the 7:26 mark.

Creighton ended the half on an 8-0 run to lead 39-34 at halftime. Alexander's triple tied the game at 34 and Miller broke the tie on the next possession with one of his own.

Creighton then pulled away with a 10-0 run in the early stages of the second half, while the Zips missed nine straight shots in a 4:31 scoring drought. Miller's third 3-pointer of the game capped the run for a 59-42 advantage with 12:29 to play.

"Honestly in the first half, there was some things that didn't go right for us and they were kind of hanging with us and whatnot," Scheierman said. "But then we were able to get stops, and it's a game of runs and we were able to go on ours and continue it. So I think that experience of knowing that the game's 40 minutes and that anything can happen, I think that helps us out."

The Bluejays grabbed their first 20-point lead with 9:37 left when Alexander got to the line for two free throws.

Freeman scored over Scheierman and Kalkbrenner back-to-back for Akron, but the Zips got no closer than 12 the rest of the way. Kalkbrenner's block of Greg Tribble and ensuing free throw with 2:38 left made it 73-58 and quashed any last-ditch rally.

--Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media