DENVER (AP) — 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 3-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-foot-1 Kalkbrenner did a little bit of everything for the Bluejays, which included hitting a big 3-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. The Bears beat Santa Barbara in the early game.
Leading 62-59, Baylor Scheierman drained a 3-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 field to open the game, and never found its rhythm from deep. The team finished 3 for 14 from 3-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.”
Creighton forward Mason Miller, the son of longtime NBA player Mike Miller, left in the first half after hurting his right ankle. “The grade of the sprain, I don’t think we’ll know until he gets up tomorrow,” McDermott said.
McDermott wore green shoes on the sideline in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. It had been in the works for months — just in case their game fell on the celebratory day.
“Obviously, McDermott is a pretty Irish name,” McDermott cracked. “We went with the green today.”
Burns released a single titled “Beast Boy” before the game. The track reflects on his drive on the court along with giving a shoutout to his teammates. Burns had two points and four rebounds.
The Bluejays faced Baylor in their second game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The Bears won 85-55. ___
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