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Creighton Rolls Past Akron, Advances to Second Round of NCAA Tournament



Creighton Blue Jays Pittsburgh NCAA Tournament
Creighton Bluejays center Ryan Kalkbrenner (11) March 21, 2024 David Hague/PSN

PITTSBURGH – A track meet broke out in the Steel City. In a back-and-forth first half with drama only found in March, the Creighton Bluejays dominated the second half to record a 17-point tournament win. 

No. 14 Akron (MAC) battled No. 3 Creighton (Big East) in the first round of the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Five points separated the two teams after 20 minutes, but the following 20 told a different story as the Bluejays rolled to a 77-60 victory. 

Creighton led 21-19, approaching the 11-minute mark remaining in the first half. Both offenses caught fire as the Bluejays made five consecutive shots, while the Zips countered with 5-7 made field goals. 

Ryan Kalkbrenner (seven) and Trey Alexander (eight) heated up early on the March Madness floor. Baylor Scheierman drained two threes in a row to grow Creighton’s lead to 27-23 as the Blujays’ shooting streak extended to making seven of their last nine.

Akron didn’t waver. The Zips answered punch for punch tied the game at 27-27 with just over seven minutes left in the first half. At the stoppage of play, Creighton shot 10-16 (63%) and an impressive 5-6 (83%) behind the arc. Akron sat at 52%. 

The Bluejays experienced a scoring drought of over four minutes that allowed Akron to take a 34-31 advantage. The pointless run also included four turnovers. Creighton’s stellar shooting from deep came alive with a mini 8-0 run sparked by the Big East’s top three-point shooter Mason Miller (45.5%). 

Alexander and Miller delivered back-to-back threes as Creighton took a 39-34 lead to the locker room. Kalkbrenner (19:25) and Sheierman (19:55) nearly played the entire half. Alexander did and tied Kalkbrenner for the team lead in points (11). 

Akron made 14-32 shots (44%) and was led by Freeman’s 15 points and eight rebounds. The Zips shot a respectable 5-15 (33%) from three but couldn’t compare to the Bluejays’ 7-10 (70%) shooting.

It was a much different story in the second half. Creighton grew the lead to 50-42 at the under-16 mark. It became a 10-point game and the largest lead of the day before the Bluejays took command and slammed the door on any Akron comeback. 

Creighton went ahead by 20 (67-47) with 10 minutes left in regulation as the Bluejays continued to shoot over 60%. Akron cut the deficit to 16 (67-51) at the under-eight media timeout. A steady dose of scoring from Miller, Kalkbrenner, and Scheierman, each scoring seven points in the second half at that point, helped the program punch its ticket to the second round.

The Zips struggled offensively in the second half, shooting only 21% from the field at the five-minute mark and missing all eight of their threes. Up by 12 (70-58) with four minutes left, Creighton continued its successful shooting en route to a tourney win. 

Freeman tied the NCAA double-double record with David Robinson (Navy, 1986) and Armando Bacot (North Carolina, 2022) at 31 on the season. He closed the season with 21 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, and a block. Senior guard Ali Ali fouled out with 14 points. 

Greg McDermott’s squad outscored Akron 38-26 in the final 20 minutes. In a game hosted by Duquesne University, Creighton won inside the venue. In Duquesne’s first NCAA Tournament game in 47 years, the Dukes played and won at Creighton’s home site. 

Kalkbrenner led all scorers with 23 points and eight rebounds. He also recorded three blocks in 38 minutes. All five starters scored in double figures as Alexander (19), Scheierman (15), Miller (10), and Steve Ashworth (10) powered the Bluejays.

In its 25th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, Creighton won its 24th game of the season and look to make it 25 on Saturday. 

The Bluejays move on to the Round of 32 to face the winner of No. 6 South Carolina and No. 11 Oregon as the first and second rounds of the 2024 NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh continue.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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