Baylor falls 85-76 to sharpshooting Creighton in Round of 32

Mar 19, 2023; Denver, CO, USA; Creighton Bluejays guard Ryan Nembhard (2) controls the ball against Baylor Bears guard LJ Cryer (4) in the first half at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor falls 85-76 to sharpshooting Creighton in Round of 32

No. 6-seed Creighton 85, No. 3-seed Baylor 76 

The third-seeded Baylor Bears fell to. No. 6-seed Creighton 85-76 in Sunday night’s Round of 32 game from Denver. Creighton stayed hot from beyond the arc all night, led by a career-high 30 points by guard Ryan Nembhard. Baylor’s deficit reached double digits by halftime, and the Bears hardly pulled within striking distance from there. Creighton will move on to the Sweet 16 in Louisville, where it’ll meet upstart No. 15-seed Princeton.

LJ Cryer had an excellent game for Baylor, making 12 of his 20 field goal attempts to finish with 28 points. The Bears’ other two starting guards struggled, as Adam Flagler and Keyonte George went a combined 0-for-7 from behind the 3-point line.

Baylor earned a trip to the Round of 32 with a second-half surge to defeat No. 14-seed UC Santa Barbara, but Sunday marked the second straight year that a highly-seeded Baylor squad failed to escape the NCAA tournament’s first weekend.

Creighton overcame 11th-seeded North Carolina State in the first round, a team with excellent guard play that seemingly prepared the Bluejays to handle Baylor’s trio in the backcourt better than many teams could. The Bluejays made an impressive 11-of-24 3-pointers and all 22 free throws they attempted in a clinical performance on offense.

Both Creighton and Baylor looked sharp on offense in the early moments of Sunday’s game. Creighton’s offense started especially hot, draining three of its first four 3-pointers to lead 15-12 when the game’s first media timeout arrived with 14:12 left in the first half.

The Bluejays extended their advantage to 21-12 before the next media timeout, holding Baylor scoreless for more than three minutes and going on a 12-2 run. The Bears missed six straight shots during the stretch, and Dale Bonner missed two free throws while Creighton continued to surge. Adam Flagler finally stopped the bleeding with his first points, a jumper with 11 minutes to go in the first half that made it 20-14. 

At the seven-minute mark of the first half, Creighton’s lead reached double digits for the first time at 27-17. The Bears and Bluejays traded scores the rest of the half, and Creighton held on to a 10-point lead at the break. Baylor struggled mightily from the 3-point line, making just 2-of-14 triples, while Creighton made 7-of-16. The Bluejays were crisp on offense, producing assists on nine of their 12 made field goals. Overall, Creighton made 50% of its shots before halftime.

Baylor began to shift momentum in their favor in the second half, drawing within five when LJ Cryer’s 3-pointer with 15 minutes left made it 50-45. Unfortunately, that momentum didn’t last long – within four minutes, the Bluejays’ lead ballooned to a game-high 14 after a 13-4 run.

Guards Andrew Nembhard of Creighton and LJ Cryer of Baylor both dominated the game through its first 30 minutes, scoring 21 points apiece – but the Bears struggled to remain competitive as the second half wore on. Creighton’s lead reached another game-high with 7:25 to go at 69-53. 

A door opened for Baylor when Ryan Kalkbrenner was forced to the bench with his fourth foul at the 6:33 mark, but Creighton’s continued dominance from the 3-point line closed it quickly. When Francisco Farbello and Ryan Nembhard drilled back-to-back triples, the Bluejays’ lead reached 77-59 with 5:54 left. Nembhard’s 3, his fourth of the game, gave him a career-high 26 points.

Heading into the final few minutes of the game, Baylor made one more run at making it competitive. After a Cryer 3-pointer and four straight made free throws, Scott Drew’s team cut the deficit to 11 at the final media timeout of the night with 3:39 remaining.

Baylor scored first out of the timeout, pulling within single-digits for the first time since the 11:44 mark of the second half – but back-to-back Baylor turnovers and two free throws by Trey Alexander extended Creighton’s advantage to 81-70 with less than a minute to go.

Baylor’s 85-76 loss ends its season, but the 2023 Bears continued the trend of Scott Drew’s teams earning high seeds and hovering near the top of the college basketball world.

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