Little General, Big Game (2023 NCAA Tournament Notebook)

Jenny Rohl/ALOST


akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

DENVER — Effusive praise was heaped upon Creighton point guard Ryan Nembhard by his coach and teammates for a couple of minutes at the podium after tonight’s game, but similar to an older brother not wanting to boost a little brother’s ego too much, one of the players broke the back-patting session with a little dig about his littleness.

“It’s always good to have a guy like him on the team who’s not only just a point guard, but he’s a leader and we look up to him,” said teammate Arthur Kaluma, “even though he’s shorter than all of us.”

The shadow cast by the seventy-two inches that make up Nembhard’s height loomed enormous on Sunday evening, as his 30 points led the sixth-seeded Blue Jays to an impressive 85-76 victory over No. 3 Baylor inside of Ball Arena, with Creighton advancing to the Sweet 16 in the South Region. In two games in Denver, Nembhard averaged 20 points per game and was a perfect 12-for-12 from the free-throw line.

The second half of today’s game was when Nembhard stood tallest, making 5-of-9 from the field and draining three of his four three-point attempts on his way to 19 points in the second stanza, with he and backcourt mate Trey Alexander (12 second-half points) almost singlehandedly stifling every Bears rally to get back into the game.

“It’s a great feeling. That’s what you want as a basketball player,” Nembhard said after his career-high scoring night. “You put in the work, you stay consistent with your work, and that’s the feeling you want. The rim felt a little bit bigger tonight, so luckily I made some shots, and we’re looking forward to the Sweet 16.”

A Sweet 16 appearance might have been in the cards for the Bluejays last season until Nembhard, who was voted the Big East’s Freshman of the Year in 2022, suffered a right wrist injury in late February of 2022 and was ruled out for the rest of the season soon afterward. After a victory over San Diego State in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, Creighton stood toe-to-toe with the No. 1 seed, eventual national champion Kansas, before the Jayhawks scored the last six points of the game in a 79-72 decision.

Over a year later, Nembhard is making up for lost time in the NCAA Tournament stage, with his clutch shots, aggressive drives and calm demeanor displayed for all of the basketball world to see on the biggest of platforms in college basketball.

It’s a feeling you can’t describe,” Nembhard said about how he felt having to watch his teammates play in the NCAA Tournament without him on the floor. “I was obviously out last year and it was tough for me to watch, but I’m super excited to get back out with my guys this year. Our goal this year was to get back to a game like this, and we’re super happy we could pull off the win.”

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Tags : Big East ConferenceCreighton Blue JaysMarch MadnessNCAA TournamentRyan Nembhard

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