OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — After a flat performance in its opener, No. 9 Creighton looked like the team it was expected to be.
Ryan Kalkbrenner scored a career-high 24 points and the Bluejays finished off North Dakota early in a 96-61 rout on Thursday night. It was a big improvement from Monday, when they didn’t pull away from St. Thomas until the final 10 minutes of a 72-60 win.
“We were just a little more locked in at practice leading up to the game this time,” Kalkbrenner said. “We weren’t necessarily overlooking anybody, but I think there was just a little bit of wake-up call on Monday. It was like, ‘Let’s just be locked in for this one to have a good game,’ because I don’t think any of us were really too happy with how we played on Monday.”
Creighton (2-0) missed five of its first six shots and committed three early turnovers, allowing North Dakota to take a brief lead.
Then the Bluejays took off on a 29-3 run.
They contested almost every North Dakota shot, got out in transition with their superior athletes and rode the momentum to a 53-22 halftime lead.
“When you’re playing defense at a high level like we did in the first half, the thing that we love to do is get out and run,” point guard Ryan Nembhard said. “When you get the momentum on our side, I feel like we’re one of the best teams in the nation because everybody in the gym gets gets us going and then we feed off of that.”
The 31-point margin at the break was Creighton’s largest against a Division I opponent since it led South Carolina Upstate by 34, 58-24, on Dec. 20, 2017, according to Sportradar.
“I thought they looked like a top-10 team today,” North Dakota coach Paul Sather said. “We just really let a poor early stretch put us in a bad spot and we just didn’t respond, and they ran it up on us.”
Tsotne Tsartsidze made 4 of 5 3s and led the Hawks with 16 points.
The Bluejays bounced back from their 8-for-34 3-point shooting against St. Thomas with a 12-for-27 effort. They were 7 of 14 from distance in the decisive first half.
“I knew we were a better shooting team than what we showed the other night, and I think you saw some snapshots of that tonight,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
As the Bluejays found success on the perimeter, the 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner was able to do his thing in the post. Kalkbrenner had the flu on Monday and was a step slow against St. Thomas. North Dakota had no answer for him. He had three straight dunks while making seven of his first eight shots and finished 10 for 11 in 24 minutes.
Asked if he expects to be a volume scorer throughout the season, Kalkbrenner said, “We’ve got five guys just in the starting group, they can have 20 on any given night. So this probably won’t be the last one. But you’ll see a lot of it from a lot of different guys this year.”
North Dakota: The Hawks got a paycheck for scheduling the game, and Sather was able to catch up with McDermott, who hired him as a graduate assistant when he was at Division II Wayne State in the 1990s.
Creighton: This game was a complete turnaround for the Bluejays, who were lax defensively, out of sync offensively and looked uninterested at times against St. Thomas. Once they got into a rhythm, they were nearly unstoppable.
The Bluejays outrebounded the Hawks 49-20, including 21-2 on the offensive end, and outscored the Hawks 24-0 on second-chance points. … North Dakota is the ninth Division I team to lose by at least 35 points to the Bluejays since 2017. … Creighton’s Trey Alexander made four 3s and had 14 points. … Nembhard scored all nine of his points in the second half and finished with six assists.
North Dakota plays five of its next six games at home, starting with Pacific on Tuesday.
Creighton plays the third of four straight home games against Holy Cross on Monday.
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