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Creighton size too much as No. 24 BYU drops second game in South Dakota

BYU Forward Seneca Knight (24) puts up a lay-up against a Creighton defender during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

BYU Forward Seneca Knight (24) puts up a lay-up against a Creighton defender during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Josh Jurgens, Associated Press)

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

PROVO β€” Size hurts, especially when you don't have much of it.

Creighton had it in spades Saturday morning when it lined up against BYU, with a front line that measured 6-foot-7, 6-foot-7 and 7-foot-1.

Credit to 6-foot-8 Caleb Lohner and 6-foot-6 Fousseyni Traore for trying to slow down that lineup. It just got to be too much.

Ryan Hawkins poured in 25 points and eight rebounds, and the aforementioned 7-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner added 14 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots as Creighton overwhelmed the 24th-ranked Cougars 83-71 Saturday at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Ryan Nembhard, the younger brother of Gonzaga's Andrew Nembhard, had 17 points and four rebounds for the Bluejays (8-3), who outscored the Cougars 36-28 in the paint in a game that BYU only led for 15 seconds.

And while Kalkbrenner only scored 3 points in 14 minutes in the second half, what he did down low stunted BYU, which only shot 39% from the field. Credit to 6-foot-8 converted post Lohner, who finished with 6 points and five rebounds, and freshman Traore, who had 4 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

But the Cougars couldn't contain that much size.

"He does a tremendous job running the floor, first of all," BYU coach Mark Pope said of Kalkbrenner. "He really does a tremendous job running the floor, and then he's a 1.46 points per possession post on the season, one of the best in the country. He was 6 for 7 tonight, and it just shows you he's a load down there. He's a problems and we didn't deal with that.

"When you're undersized and getting beat down the floor, that's a problem. And it's a problem for me getting our team prepared tonight."

Alex Barcello poured in a season-high 28 points, including five 3-pointers, and four assists to lead BYU. Seneca Knight added a season-high 13 points and four rebounds for the Cougars, who fell to 8-2 on the season.

BYU shot 12 of 23 from 3-point range, including Lohner's last-second triple, but were just 27 of 69 from the field against a defense that forced 15 turnovers and seven blocked shots in a game that tipped off at 11 a.m. local time and 10 a.m. for subscribers of the Cougars' body clocks in the Mountain time zone.

"It was definitely different," Knight told BYU Radio. "We got out here a day early to try to adjust to the time difference and practiced early in the morning yesterday. But we still have to wake up and try to find a way to win.

"We just had to adjust to it."

Behind a perfect 5-for-5 start from Kalkbrenner, the Bluejays outscored the Cougars 26-12 in the paint, outrebounded BYU 21-19, and posted seven blocks to just one for the Cougars in the first half.

There were a lot of reasons to think BYU might struggle in the paint after a season-ending knee injury to Gavin Baxter and an unsure medical diagnosis to Richard Harward that forced Lohner to start as an undersized five for the third consecutive game.

The Cougars trailed by as much as 21, but Creighton made just 4 of its first 16 field goals in the second half to pull BYU back into it. Gideon George capped a 15-4 run that pulled the Cougars within 63-53 with 8:03 left, and Knight scored 6 of his 11 points after the break to help overturn the monster deficit.

But the Cougars could get no closer as Hawkins put the game to bed with a rim-rattling dunk followed by a 3-pointer from Alex O'Connell that all-but sealed BYU's second loss of the season.

"I hope the fans got into it, because it might be the only one they get this year," joked Hawkins of the dunk in front of a largely pro-Bluejays crowd just over two hours from Creighton's campus in Omaha, Nebraska. "But we got a stop defensively, and then to get a score on the other end was huge."

Shooting inside the 3,500-seat home of the NBA G League's Sioux Falls Skyforce, Creighton opened by shooting 75% to jump out to a 10-2 lead before Barcello and Knell pulled the Cougars back within four, 15-11, midway through the first half.

Propelled by six turnovers in the first 12 minutes, the Bluejays stretched the lead as high as 17 points by scoring through Nembhard and Kaikbrenner en route to a 36-19 lead. Barcello cut Creighton's lead to 12 with back-to-back buckets on ensuing possessions, but the Bluejays used an 8-0 run exclusively through Hawkins β€” who had 19 points in the first half β€” and Creighton shot 57% to BYU's 34% en route to a 48-30 lead at the break.

"(Hawkins) was a handful for us in the first half," Pope said of the Division II national champion from Northwest Missouri State. "I think the physicality of the game took us by surprise a little. That's really disappointing for us; we're usually the ones who are bringing the physicality to the game."

BYU ends what Pope phrased as the "second phase of the season" at 8-2, and returns to Utah to play at Weber State next Saturday at 6 p.m. MT in Ogden (KJZZ, ESPN+).

"There are no breathers at all," Knight said, "but coach set up this schedule for a reason."

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