No. 8 Creighton shook off a slow start to blow out North Dakota State 89-60 on Saturday, improving to 2-0 at CHI Health Center Omaha.
The Bluejays hit their last eight shots of the first half to build a 10-point lead at the break then opened the second half with a 16-0 run to put the Bison away. Three Bluejays scored in double figures as Creighton shot 61.1% from the field including 42.9% from 3.
Her are three takeaways from the game.
We won’t get to see him prove it against top-level competition until later on (Creighton’s first ranked opponent will likely be Alabama in the final game of the nonconference), but it looks pretty clear that Trey Alexander has made a leap.
The junior guard has been spectacular to start the season and had another big game Saturday.
The defense popped early as he used his 6-foot-9.5 wingspan to secure a career-high four steals and to smother a jump shot attempt for a block — all before the under-8 timeout. He also forced another turnover in transition by hustling back to get in position for a vertical challenge and added a fifth steal to his line later on.
“He’s really good,” Coach Greg McDermott said. “[Boden] Skunberg is their best scorer, he’s been their most consistent scorer, and that’s where Trey started. And then [Damari] Wheeler-Thomas had 13 at halftime, so we switched Trey over to him and he gets two the second half.”
Skunberg finished with four points on 2-of-6 shooting and five turnovers after pouring in 42 points in North Dakota State’s first two games. Wheeler-Thomas shot 1-for-4 in the second half after hitting all but one of his attempts in the first.
“He can’t be everywhere, that’s that’s the problem,” McDermott continued. “But he certainly does a great job, takes a lot of pride in it, on top of everything we ask him to do offensively — to make shots and create for other people. He had four assists and one turnover to go with a 21 points and seven rebounds, so it’s a pretty complete game.”
Alexander shot 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-5 from the line for his 21 points, and that’s with him missing all three of his 3s. He went mid-range hunting early, getting to his spots consistently and knocking them down, then mixed in some tough finishes at the rim as well including another dunk.
Summit League Rivalries Run Deep
For the second straight game, Creighton got off to a sluggish start offensively. One player who was juiced from the opening tip, however, was Baylor Scheierman.
Seeing an old conference rival from his Summit League days, the South Dakota State transfer scored nine of Creighton’s first 13 points, getting into the paint for a pair of turn-around jumpers and a trip to the foul line before splashing a 3 to put Creighton up 13-11, and the Jays never trailed again.
Scheierman finished with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting (3-of-5 from 3) and a game-high six assists.
“I think it was good for him,” Alexander said. “I think when you have a guy like Baylor that can get hot that quick, I think that it opens it up for it for everybody. Obviously somebody’s going to have the the lesser defender and I think that Baylor took that matchup personally. I think he was able to assert his will against a team that he had played multiple times and I think he had a chip on his shoulder. I think that that’s what got us out to an early lead and we were kind of able to pick it up from there. So we definitely rode his wave away tonight.”
"Honestly I was just able to find shots within our offense and knock 'em down"@playforhim3 contributed 14 points in the first half alone to help lift the Jays to a win over Scheierman's former Summit League rival NDSU. Here's @AnaBellMedia with him postgame. pic.twitter.com/RcNJzi5MCm
— Hurrdat Sports (@HurrdatSports) November 11, 2023
Feed the Big Fella
Ryan Kalkbrenner scored nine points and took just five shots in the opener, and McDermott praised his unselfishness after the game. He was even quieter in the first half on Saturday, taking just one shot and going scoreless.
The guards turnover the ball over a few times early trying to force the lob to him when it wasn’t there, and he was fairly passive on the possessions where he did get a touch. Kalkbrenner owned his part in the quiet first half after the game.
“I think some of that was just being a little more assertive before the ball gets to me,” Kalkbrenner said. “I think a couple plays in the first half I kind of let them push me off my spot and the second half I kind of tried to stay on my spot and stay where I could get the ball easier, and I know these guys do a great job of looking at me when I’m open.”
McDermott had a chat with his team at halftime, and the first play of the second half was a set to get the 7-footer a deep touch, which he converted into a bucket. That sparked the 16-0 run which included 11 points from Kalkbrenner himself as he got a friendly bounce on a 3 on the second possession then scored inside again on the third. After a pair of Alexander free throws, he dropped in a lefty jump hook then dunked through a foul on a back cut to cap the run.
“Everybody’s job is easier if we can establish him,” McDermott said. “If you’re planning against Ryan Kalkbrenner, you’re scared to death of him down there because he’s so efficient once he catches it. In the first half, we were kind of backwards in our thinking — we’re going to hit some mid-range, we’re going to hit some 3s and then they’ll stretch out and then we’ll get it to Kalkbrenner. At halftime, we had a discussion that we were going to go about it a little different way. So we were able to get him touches early.”
Kalkbrenner missed his second 3-point attempt but added another bunny in the paint to finish with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with three rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 28 minutes. Creighton has attempted 11 more 3-pointers than 2-pointers through two games, and the jays have connected at a 45.5% rate, which makes it understandable. However, they’re also shooting 74.5% inside the arc including Kalkbrenner’s 9-for-10.
“Sometimes you can get lost when you play in our system as a big guy; you’re flying it up and down, you shoot an open 3, you miss an open 3, you fly it up and down again, so you don’t get a lot of touches on the block,” McDermott continued. “So it can be difficult, but we have to make sure he’s a part of what we do at all times. It’s too valuable and once he’s established, now everybody else’s job becomes easier.”