Ryan Kalkbrenner didn’t have a big game in No. 8 Creighton’s season opener against Florida A&M. The Bluejays’ leading scorer a year ago finished with nine points, four rebounds and two assists in 20 minutes on Tuesday.
However, he passed a milestone early on, covering up for a teammate to prevent an easy bucket at the rim as he’s done so many times before.
The fact that he pinned the layup and secured the board — and what it led to on the other end — is impressive in its own right, but it was also his 200th carer block, a total only one other player in program history has reached. Benoit Benjamin is the program’s record-holder with 411.
Kalkbrenner won’t catch Benjamin, but the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year continues to write his legacy in Omaha as his junior year begins.
“Kalk’s just been he’s been so consistent and he’s just so selfless,” Coach Greg McDermott said. “He’s a preseason All-American, he scores nine points, gets four rebounds, but he’s the happiest guy in the locker room, and that just speaks to who he is and what he’s about. He’s always been about the group and it’s been really fun to watch him. I’m sure our fans have enjoyed it, but selfishly for me to watch his growth and development over the course of the last three-plus years has been incredible. He’s just absolutely been a joy to coach and he’s poised to have a heck of a year.”
Kalkbrenner only took five shots, making four of them, but his impact extended far beyond that. The threat he provides rolling to the rim or posting up on the block opens up opportunities for everyone else, as evidenced by the Jays hitting 18 3-pointers at a 47.4% clip. Trey Alexander, Steven Ashworth and Baylor Scheierman combined for 52 points, nearly outscoring the Rattlers on their own.
“If they’re going to plug it up and they’re going to go double it, then we’re going to get 38 3-point shots,” McDermott said. “So you decide what you want to do. Especially a team like Florida A&M, they didn’t necessarily have a guy that can match him one-on-one, so they provided a little bit of help, and then we’re going to be able to cast up a bunch of 3s and we’re pretty confident in our ability to shoot it.”
Every Bluejay who stepped on the court Tuesday scored at least twice, and everybody but the two centers hit at least one 3. With Jasen Green injured, the Jays were short-handed and McDermott split the minutes up pretty only with everyone playing between 15 and 26 minutes. Last year, Creighton didn’t get a lot of opportunities during the nonconference do give its bench players extended run for development, but that wasn’t the case Tuesday.
“We only have 10 guys in uniform with Jasen’s injury and then we’re going to redshirt some of those other guys,” McDermott said. “So a lot of guys got minutes guys that are fighting for playing time, or more playing time. For them to have this valuable film to watch is really helpful in their development. We wanted to be a little bit better on the offensive glass than we were against Wayne State; that’s something we’ve talked about in practice the last couple of days and it was good to see the carryover there.
“But the unselfish stuff, I’d like to tell you that’s coaching, but we just have some really unselfish guys, sometimes to a fault. At times we, I thought early especially, we turned down some open shots that we didn’t need to turn down to make an extra pass.”
The Bluejays finished finished with 21 assists in the game, 16 of which were for 3-pointers. Everybody but Josiah Dotzler had at least one assist, and the true freshman easily could have had multiple helpers had open shots had gone done. Unselfishness has been a recurring theme when McDermott and the players spoke throughout the preseason, and the coach said that starts with the team’s leaders.
“I just think when your leadership of your program is unselfish as our leadership is — Steven, Trey, Baylor, Kalk — everybody’s going to fall in line or their life’s probably going to be miserable,” McDermott said. “So these guys, besides what they’re doing for us now, they’re setting examples for some of these younger guys in our program as to how we at least want to play basketball here. That was really on full display tonight.”
The Bluejays will look to continue that unselfish play on Saturday when they host North Dakota State out of the Summit League at CHI Health Center Omaha.
The Bison are off to a 2-0 start, though one of those wins came over a NAIA team. Coach Dave Richman lost his top player to the transfer portal as forward Grant Nelson landed at Alabama after testing the NBA Draft waters, but the Bison returned their top guard in Boden Skunberg. The 6-foot-5 senior averaged 15.1 points and shot 39.5% from 3 a year ago, and he’s put up 21.0 points per game in the first two this year.
Junior guard Jacari White (12.0 points per game, 5-of-9 from 3) and junior forward Andrew Morgan (11.0 points and 9.0 rebounds at 6-foot-10) have also played well so far this season.
In a season-opening 80-76 win at Western Michigan on Nov. 6, Skunberg went off for 25 points, Morgan had a 12-points, 13-rebound double-double and White chipped in 15 points off the bench while the Bison shot 40.7% from 3 as a team. The Bison should prevent a stiffer test for Creighton’s defense as the Bluejays look to continue integrating two new starters and a few key bench pieces.
Tipoff on Saturday is set for 1 p.m. on FS2.