MEN’S BASKETBALL: Creighton Rallies To Beat San Diego State In NCAA Tourney Opener

FORT WORTH, TX–(CU Athletics Mar. 17)–Down 62-53 with under three minutes remaining in regulation, the Creighton men’s basketball team staged an epic 9-0 rally to force overtime and eventually earn a 72-69 win over San Diego State in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, March 17.

The win moved Creighton on to the Second Round, where the Bluejays (23-11) will face Kansas on Saturday, March 19 in Fort Worth, with a 1:40pm tip off on CBS. San Diego State, meanwhile, closes its season with a record of 23-9.

The Bluejay comeback began in earnest with 2:28 left on the clock as senior Alex O’Connell knocked down a pair of free throws (62-55). Following a defensive stop, O’Connell drained a three-pointer from the right win to make it 62-58 with 1:55 remaining. An Aztec turnover moments later led to a fast break layup by sophomore Ryan Kalkbrenner, getting the Bluejays within one possession at 62-60 (1:07).

Another San Diego State turnover gave Creighton the ball back with 1:01 on the clock, but a trio of close misses gave the Aztecs the ball with 34 seconds remaining. Freshman Arthur Kaluma, however, nabbed a critical steal to give Creighton one additional opportunity. Fellow freshman Trey Alexander made the most of the chance with a game-tying jumper from the left baseline to knot the game at 62-62 with 11 seconds left.

San Diego State had a chance to collect the win in regulation as Matt Bradley was fouled, but the Aztec guard missed the front end to force overtime.

Both offenses opened the extra session with precision as San Diego State scored on its first three possessions, while Creighton got to the foul line for four points.

The Aztecs held a 68-66 advantage with 2:06 left in the extra session after O’Connell drew his fifth foul. San Diego State hit one of two at the charity stripe, but Creighton found a way to rally its troops without Kalkbrenner, who left with a knee injury with 2:45 remaining. He did not return and left the arena in a wheelchair.

Alexander pulled the Bluejays back within one at 69-68 (1:47), then Creighton’s defense denied the Aztecs once more. After senior Ryan Hawkins grabbed the rebound, Alexander pushed to the hoop for the bucket and the foul to give Creighton its first lead (70-69) since 8-7. Alexander went on to convert the traditional three-point play to put the Bluejays up 71-69 with 1:08 left.

Creighton secured the win with a pair of defensive stops down the stretch and a free throw from senior KeyShawn Feazell in the final second that was CU’s only bench point of the night.

Early in the game San Diego State took a 21-10 advantage with a 9-0 run in the first half. Reserve Chad Baker-Mazara then took over for SDSU, scoring 16 of 18 Aztec points in a span of seven minutes to push the margin to 29-17. Down 35-21 at one point, the Bluejays rallied with a 9-2 run to end the half down 37-30. Baker-Mazara led all players with 15 points in just eight minutes before the half, while CU was paced by 10 points and eight rebounds (six offensive) by Ryan Kalkbrenner.

The second half saw the Aztecs seem to match every Creighton run for the first 16 minutes as the Bluejays closed to within 54-50, before falling behind 62-53 to set the stage for the Bluejays’ dramatic finish.

Alexander led Creighton with a game and career-high 18 points in the win, while Kalkbrenner delivered his sixth double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Three other Bluejays closed the game in double figures, getting 15 points from O’Connell, 12 from Kaluma and 10 by Hawkins. The Jays shot 44.6 percent for the game and won despite shooting just 2-of-14 from downtown.

San Diego State’s Baker-Mazara was limited to just two points in the second half, but led the Aztecs with 17 points in the game. Bradley finished with 16 points and Trey Pulliam had 14.