NCAA tournament: Ryan Kalkbrenner powers Creighton past NC State team that managed just 3 assists

DENVER, COLORADO - MARCH 17: Ryan Kalkbrenner #11 of the Creighton Bluejays reacts after a dunk during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Ball Arena on March 17, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Ryan Kalkbrenner and the Bluejays are on to the second round. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Ryan Kalkbrenner made his presence known in the Big East this season.

On Friday, he introduced himself to the NCAA tournament.

The All-Big East center and Defensive Player of the Year dominated both ends of the floor en route to a career-high scoring effort in a 72-63 Creighton win over NC State. An 11th-seeded Wolfpack team that failed to record an assist or a make 3-pointer in the first half managed to keep things close, but didn't have provide enough firepower around All-ACC guard Terquavion Smith to pull out the upset over the No. 6 seed Bluejays.

The half marked the first time since the 2018 tournament that a team failed to record an assist in the first half, according to CBS. Syracuse went without a first-half assist against Michigan State that year, but managed to pull off the second-round win.

Creighton opened a 30-27 first-half lead despite shooting just 1 of 13 from 3-point distance. NC State then found its stride early in the second half with a 9-0 run to take a 37-30 lead. The run included its first 3-pointer by Casey Morsell on its first assist of the game from Jarkel Joiner.

But the Wolfpack's lack of ball movement persisted as they managed just three assists for the game. They finished 3 of 13 from 3-point range.

Kalkbrenner, meanwhile, took over after an 11-point first half. He finished with 31 points, seven rebounds and three blocks while shooting 11 of 14 from the floor. Smith countered with 32 points, but it wasn't enough to overcome an offense that shot 37.5% from the field.

Creighton moved away from the 3-point shot after struggling in the first half and finished shooting 3 of 20 from distance after attempting just seven shots from beyond the arc after halftime. Instead, it repeatedly looked inside to Kalkbrenner, who leveraged his 7-foot-1 frame against an NC State lineup that started 6-9 forward D.J. Burns alongside four guards.

Creighton entered the season as a top-10 team, but started the tournament unranked after a 21-12 regular season. It gets a tough test next with a game against No. 3 seed Baylor on Sunday.