OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — It took until the second half for Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner to adjust to Providence’s bruising style.
When he did, the 7-foot-1 center played a leading role in ending the No. 19 Friars’ nine-game win streak 73-67 Saturday after the Bluejays squandered a big second-half lead.
“On offense, they were really physical, as a lot of teams are this year,” Kalkbrenner said. “I got way more comfortable with it the second half and started to get a little more aggressive. It can throw you off at first. You got to keep playing and keep your confidence up.”
Kalkbrenner scored 13 of his 21 points in the last 15 minutes and finished with four blocks, none bigger than his swat of Bryce Hopkins’ jumper with the Friars down 5 points with 4 1/2 minutes left.
It was the kind of performance Creighton has come to expect from Kalkbrenner, who was Big East defensive player of the year last season and gone from 235 pounds to 260 since arriving two seasons ago.
“Freshman year I was a string bean,” he said. “I know how much work I’ve put in the weight room. I know I’m strong. I have to breathe, play low and be physical back. I know I can do it. I did it at the end of last year.”
The Bluejays (10-8, 4-3 Big East) got 20 points from Trey Alexander and 19 from Baylor Scheierman.
Creighton was up 16 points two minutes into the second half before Providence went on a 25-9 run with Scheierman on the bench in foul trouble for most of it.
Hopkins’ 3-pointer from the wing tied it 54-all with eight minutes to play. Arthur Kaluma’s three-point play put Creighton back in front, Kalkbrenner scored six straight points and the Bluejays held Providence (14-4, 6-1) without a field goal for 4 1/2 minutes to regain control.
“We did some really good things to get us right to where the game could be won or lost, and that’s all you ask for as a coach,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “We had errors throughout the game and, in a game like this, playing against a team that had lost two in a row coming back into a sold-out building, you’ve got to give them credit because they made the right plays to win the game.”
Hopkins had 20 points to lead the Friars, who entered with their longest win streak since 1988-89. Devin Carter added 13 points and Noah Locke had 12.
Creighton won for the first time in three games and improved to 3-4 against ranked opponents.
Scheierman, who scored 17 points in the first half, hit a 3 to break a 21-21 tie and begin a 20-8 spurt that sent the Bluejays to the locker room with a 41-29 lead.
Scheierman went to bench with fourth foul with 16 minutes left, giving the Friars the opening to begin their comeback.
This was Providence’s first visit to Omaha in two years. The regular-season game scheduled here last season was canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Friars’ program.
Providence: The Friars were playing as a ranked team for the first time this season. They had won their previous three Big East road games but weren’t able to finish what would have been their biggest comeback in a win since overcoming a 19-point deficit against Butler last February.
Creighton: The Bluejays, fueled by a sellout crowd at CHI Health Center, improved to 8-1 at home.
It was eerily quiet when Hopkins went to the free throw line early in the second half.
As he prepared to shoot, public address announcer Jake Ryan admonished fans, saying, “It’s OK to make noise during opponent free throws.”
Providence visits No. 25 Marquette on Wednesday. The Friars beat the Golden Eagles 103-98 in double overtime at home Dec. 20.
Creighton visits Butler on Tuesday. The Bluejays beat the Bulldogs 78-56 at home Dec. 20.
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