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March Madness: Creighton outmuscles Akron for 77-60 win in NCAA Tournament opener

Thu, Mar 21, 2024

March Madness: Creighton outmuscles Akron for 77-60 win in NCAA Tournament opener

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ryan Kalkbrenner scored 23 points and Trey Alexander had 19 as Creighton, which came within seconds of making the Final Four a year ago, opened the NCAA Tournament with a 77-60 win over Akron in the Midwest Region on Thursday.

The third-seeded Bluejays (24-9) got all they could handle in the first half from the 14th-seeded Zips (24-11), the Mid-American Conference tourney champions who came in as a 10 1/2-point underdog.

However, Creighton flexed its Big East muscles after halftime and pulled away to advance to the second round and a matchup against the South Carolina-Oregon winner on Saturday at PPG Paints Arena.

This was the start Creighton was hoping for. A year ago, the Bluejays' season ended with a heartbreaking 57-56 loss to San Diego State - Creighton committed a foul in the closing seconds - in the South Region final. Much of that squad came back for coach Doug McDermott to try and make another deep run, and the Bluejays have taken the first step.

Baylor Scheierman added 15 points and 13 rebounds for Creighton, which made 10 of 17 3-pointers.

Akron's Enrique Freeman, the MAC Player of the Year and nation's leading rebounder, finished with 21 points and 14 boards. It was Freeman's 31st double-double, tying him with Navy great David Robinson (1986) for the single-season NCAA record.

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The Zips fell to 0-6 in NCAA Tournament play.

Akron coach John Groce, who guided Ohio to a Sweet 16 berth in 2010, had his team ready to play and the Zips were still within 49-42 early in the second half.

But that's when the Bluejays went on a 10-2 run capped by Mason Miller hitting a 3-pointer from the left wing. After catching the ball, Miller used a fake to buckle the knees of Akron's Mikal Dawson, who moaned as he fell helplessly backward to the floor.

Creighton needed an 8-0 run in the final two minutes of the half to take a 39-34 lead at the break.

Outside shooting isn't Freeman's forte, but the senior came out checking his range.

He banked in a 3-pointer from straightaway on his first attempt and kept firing, making his first three shots from behind the arc. Freeman only attempted 17 3s coming into the tournament, but he's been working on his outside shot to enhance his chances of playing in the NBA.


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

Article Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved.
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