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Creighton ends Princeton’s Cinderella run in Sweet 16

Creighton used its size, 3-point shooting and a swarming second-half defense to end the March Madness run of Princeton, beating the 15th-seeded Tigers 86-75 on Friday night in the Sweet 16.

The sixth-seeded Bluejays (24-12) advanced to their first regional final since they were part of an eight-team NCAA Tournament in 1941. Creighton will play No. 5 seed San Diego State in Sunday’s South Region final, with each team seeking its first Final Four.

Ryan Kalkbenner, the two-time Big East defensive player of the year, scored 22 points to lead the Bluejays to their sixth win in seven games. Baylor Scheierman made five 3s and finished with 21 points.

“Kalk, he impacts us at the rim on both ends of the floor and defensively provides so much for us,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “I thought he really got going late in the first half and carried it over to the second half. Baylor just plays at every level. He can make the mid-range. He shoots the 3. He sees the floor incredibly well, and believe it or not, he’s become a pretty good defender.”

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Francisco Farabello #5 of the Creighton Bluejays reacts during the first half in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center against the Princeton Tigers on March 24, 2023, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Ryan Langborg led the Tigers (23-9) with 26 points and Ivy League player of the year Tosan Evbuomwan with 24 points, six rebounds and nine assists.

Princeton shook up brackets everywhere by beating No. 2 seed Arizona in the first round, then blew out seventh-seeded Missouri last weekend in Sacramento, California.

Playing in its first Sweet 16 since 1967, Princeton was hoping to become the first Ivy League champion to make the Elite Eight since Penn’s Final Four run in 1979, the first Tigers squad to reach the Final Four since Bill Bradley led them there in 1965, and the second straight No. 15 seed to play in a regional final. Saint Peter’s last year became the first 15 seed to achieve that feat.

Princeton’s offense bore no resemblance to the back-cutting, deliberate style that defined the late Pete Carril’s coaching tenure. Instead, the Tigers went toe to toe against Creighton’s fast-paced offense until they stalled out at the start of the second half.

Ryan Kalkbrenner #11 of the Creighton Bluejays reacts during the first half in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament against the Princeton Tigers at KFC YUM! Center on March 24, 2023, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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Creighton used a 9-2 run to take a 56-45 lead, a four-minute stretch during which Princeton coach Mitch Henderson called two timeouts, and Evbuomwan drew his third foul.

The Bluejays wouldn’t stop. When Princeton cut the deficit to 61-52, Creighton answered with seven more points, and the Tigers couldn’t get closer than seven points after that.

“Princeton’s really good at establishing their pace, so you’ve just got to take them out of it,” Kalkbrenner said. “Their whole goal is to take us out of our pace.”

After beating North Carolina State and third-seeded Baylor in Denver last weekend, drawing confidence from not needing oxygen masks like their opponents, Creighton eliminated the suddenly popular Ivy Leaguers. Now, the Bluejays are one win away from the national semifinals.

Ryan Kalkbrenner #11 of the Creighton Bluejays reacts after dunking against Zach Martini #54 of the Princeton Tigers during the first half in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 24, 2023, in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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“It’s been amazing, it’s been a dream come true. This is why I came to Creighton in the first place, to make a run with this group of guys,” Scheierman said. “It’s just been an incredible experience. I’m looking forward to continuing that on Sunday.”

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