Bluejays’ big man enjoys huge night

Baylor forward Jalen Bridges dunks in the first half of a first-round college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara in the men's NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Baylor forward Jalen Bridges dunks in the first half of a first-round college basketball game against UC Santa Barbara in the men's NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER -- The Creighton Bluejays couldn't hit anything from outside. No worries -- OK, maybe a little -- they simply went inside to their big man.

Ryan Kalkbrenner scored a career-high 31 points and sixth-seeded Creighton overcame a rough three-point shooting day to fend off No. 11 seed North Carolina State 72-63 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The 7-1 Kalkbrenner did a little bit of everything for the Bluejays, which included hitting a big three-pointer on a day the team finished 3 of 20 from long range.

The slender Kalkbrenner had six dunks and seven rebounds, and N.C. State big men D.J. Burns Jr. and Ebenezer Dowuona were hampered by foul trouble.

"Nothing surprises me from Kalk," Creighton Coach Greg McDermott said. "He's just improved in every facet of the game, and he was able to score on Burns. But then when they had to go small, we did a good job of executing some offense to get him the ball around the rim, and then he did the rest."

Next up for the Bluejays (22-12) is third-seeded Baylor in the second round in the South Region.

Leading 62-59, Baylor Scheierman drained a three-pointer with 2:23 remaining to give Creighton some separation. A pair of free throws for Kalkbrenner, a block by Trey Alexander and another basket from Scheierman -- complete with blowing the crowd a kiss -- and the Bluejays were on their way to a hard-earned win.

About that kiss: "It was just an in-the-moment thing," Scheierman explained. "It wasn't necessarily to anybody."

Kalkbrenner was having a big game in the NCAA Tournament last season -- 16 points, 10 rebounds -- when he suffered a knee injury in the overtime win over San Diego State. He didn't get to play the next round against eventual national champion Kansas.

"Happy to be able to play in it this time," Kalkbrenner said.

Terquavion Smith led the Wolfpack (23-11) with 32 points on 27 shots. The team started slow, going 0 for 8 from the floor to open the game, and never found its rhythm from deep. The team finished 3 for 14 from three-point range.

"We knew their game plan. We knew knew what they were going to do," said Wolfpack guard Jarkel Joiner, whose team led by seven with 16:48 remaining. "We could've been more disruptive because they're a great passing team. But give credit to them -- they found their big man."

It was quite a turnaround for an N.C. State team that went 11-21 last season.

"We are going to walk out of here with our head up," N.C. State Coach Kevin Keatts said. "Continue to build and keep pushing this program in the right direction."

BAYLOR 74,

UC-SANTA BARBARA 56

Caleb Lohner scored a season-best 13 points in just 18 minutes, and No. 3 seed Baylor beat UC Santa Barbara.

Adam Flagler led the Bears with 18 points, and LJ Cryer scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half.

Baylor (23-10) overcame a one-point halftime deficit to advance.

Lohner's only other double-digit performance since transferring from BYU to Baylor for this season came back in November when he scored 11 against Virginia.

The Gauchos (27-8) looked like easy pickings for the Bears in the opening minutes before they used a 13-1 run to take a 26-22 lead.

The Gauchos led the Mountain West Conference with a .493 shooting percentage and that sharpshooting carried over to Ball Arena, where they shot 61.5% in the first half to take a 36-35 lead into the locker room.

That all went away after halftime, however. The Gauchos were held to 30.4% shooting in the second half and the Bears pulled away.

Miles Norris led the Gauchos with 15 points. Ajay Mitchell added 13.

  photo  UC Santa Barbara guard Ajay Mitchell, right, looks to pass as Baylor guard Dale Bonner defends in the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Leyba)
 
 
  photo  UC Santa Barbara guard Ajay Mitchell, right, drives past Baylor forward Jalen Bridges in the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 17, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
 
 
  photo  UC Santa Barbara guard Josh Pierre-Louis, center, drives to the basket between Baylor forwards Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, left, and Caleb Lohner (33) in the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Leyba)
 
 
  photo  Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, left, looks to pass the ball as UC Santa Barbara forward Evans Kipruto defends in the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the men's NCAA Tournament Friday, March 17, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Leyba)
 
 

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