Princeton won’t be joining an exclusive club.
In last year’s NCAA tournament, St. Peter’s became the first No. 15 seed to advance all the way to the Elite Eight. On Friday night in the South region semifinal in Louisville, Princeton, another team from New Jersey, was aiming to do the same.
But Creighton, the No. 6 seed, had other ideas.
Princeton just couldn’t do enough to upset the hot-shooting Bluejays, who punched their ticket to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1941 (when the tournament included only eight teams). In the 86-75 win, Creighton shot 58.2% from the field and had four different players score in double-figures.
Big man Ryan Kalkbrenner had a workmanlike 22 points on 9-of-12 from the field. Baylor Scheierman, the crafty 6-foot-7 lefty guard, was excellent with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Additionally, Trey Alexander chipped in 15, Arthur Kaluma had 10 and Ryan Nemhard had nine points and eight assists after going off for 30 points in the Round of 32.
The Creighton offense was executing at a high level from the jump. The Bluejays connected on 10 of their first 13 shots from the field, but it took until late in the second half to finally put away the resilient Tigers.
Princeton stayed in striking distance early in the first half with offensive rebounds, second-chance points and by taking care of the ball. And then the offense got going. The Tigers were gutting the Creighton defense with an array of back cuts and post-ups, often with unique big man Tosan Evbuomwan initiating the offense.
Evbuomwan led the Ivy League in assists and also is Princeton’s leading scorer. He was gashing Creighton both at the top of the key and while operating out of the mid-post. He posted 24 points, nine assists and six rebounds. He even hit a pair of 3-pointers. And for a time, it looked like he may lead the Tigers to another win.
But even as the offense was cooking, Princeton's defense just could not contain the Creighton offense. Scheierman was lethal from long distance. Kalkbrenner was too much to handle in the post. Nembhard was deftly setting up his teammates for open looks. Princeton couldn’t defend it.
And when Creighton’s defense started to pick up late in the first half, the tenor of the game shifted. Princeton was up 37-33 with under five minutes to go in the first half, but Creighton closed the half strong and went into the break up 47-43.
That carried over to the second half as Creighton scored 21 of the first 30 points and quickly grew the lead to double figures.
Princeton made a few runs, but Creighton always had the answer and ended up closing out an impressive 11-point victory to move on to Sunday's matchup with San Diego State with a trip to the Final Four on the line.