OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Word out of the locker room while Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner was getting treatment for an ankle sprain was that it was questionable whether he would return for the second half against Alabama.

Kalkbrenner had no doubt he would.

“I turned on the TV in the training room so I could keep an eye on things,” he said. “I was watching the game and thought it was a little too close for comfort for me to be sitting back here.”

Kalkbrenner scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half to lead No. 8 Creighton to an 85-82 victory on Saturday night.

Trey Alexander paced Creighton (9-2) with 22 points and Baylor Scheierman added 20, but it was the return of Kalkbrenner to start the second half that gave the Bluejays the boost they needed to bounce back from their 15-point midweek loss to UNLV.

“I think at times people unfairly question his toughness,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “And that’s a bunch of B.S. There’s a reason he didn’t come back in the first half. That ankle was not good and he was limping around at halftime and said he’d try it.”

Alabama (6-4) led most of the second half until Kalkbrenner converted lobs from Alexander and Scheierman into easy layups on consecutive possessions and Scheierman hit a 3-pointer to put Creighton up 72-66.

The Bluejays' lead grew to seven, but the Crimson Tide chipped away and got within 83-80 with 40 seconds left. Mark Sears, who led the Tide with 19 points, drove for an uncontested layup with 3.8 seconds left to make it a one-point game.

Steven Ashworth got fouled on the inbounds pass and made both free throws with 2.6 seconds left. Sears' long 3-point try from just inside halfcourt rattled in and out at the buzzer.

Alabama, which came in sixth nationally in 3-point shooting at 41%, was just 4 of 22 from distance.

The 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner, the Bluejays' second-leading scorer and the two-time Big East defensive player of the year, turned his ankle while running back on defense with 13 minutes left in the first half. He scored six of the Bluejays' first eight points after halftime.

“Once I got out there, the adrenaline takes over,” Kalkbrenner said. “You're definitely going to feel it a little bit. I've sprained my ankle enough times to know how it feels. But after a certain point, you get confident in your movement and you can make an impact.”

Alabama attacked the basket in Kalkbrenner's absence. The 6-10 Nick Pringle, who had 15 points before fouling out with three minutes left, soared in along the baseline for one of his four dunks.

But when Kalkbrenner returned, the Tide had no answer for him. He scored six of the Bluejays' first eight points of the second half and converted lob after lob into easy baskets.

“In our four losses we’ve shown that we’re right there with all the best teams in the country,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said, “but we don’t do enough winning stuff to actually win the game.”


Alabama: The Tide gave Creighton all it could handle on a night when they were cold from 3-point range and had starters Pringle, Mohamed Wague and others in foul trouble.

Creighton: The Bluejays are a different team when Kalkbrenner is on the court. Alabama's ability to drive to the basket was limited when he re-entered the game.


The game marked the return of former Creighton assistant Preston Murphy to Omaha. Oats hired Murphy in July upon his completion of a two-year show-cause penalty.

Murphy resigned in 2019 after he was found to have violated NCAA rules when he was videotaped accepting $6,000 from a representative of a management company in a Las Vegas hotel room. The NCAA said the payment formalized a business agreement where the management company could use Murphy as a conduit to Creighton players. Creighton was placed on two years’ probation in 2021 in connection with the case.


Alabama plays No. 1 Arizona in Phoenix on Wednesday, the last game in a stretch of three straight against top-10 opponents.

Creighton hosts Villanova on Wednesday in its Big East opener.


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