Creighton’s Alex O’Connell, left, tries to drive past Brown defender Perry Cowan during the first half of Friday’s game in the opening day of the Paradise Jam men’s college basketball tournament at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas.

ST. THOMAS — Creighton head coach Greg McDermott would like nothing better than to leave the U.S. Virgin Islands with another Paradise Jam title.

Well, the Blue Jays got off to a good start Friday, rolling past Brown 78-57 in their first-round game at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center.

Ryan Kalkbrenner led five players in double figures for Creighton, the 2016 Paradise Jam champs, with a career-high 19 points. Ryan Hawkins added 15 points, Arthur Kaluma and Alex O’Connell had 13 each, and Ryan Nembhard put in 10 points.

The Blue Jays — now 4-0 — have now won four consecutive games in the Paradise Jam tournament, dating back to their 3-0 run through the 2016 tourney.

Kino Lilly Jr. had 12 points and Paxson Wojcik added 10 points for the Bears (3-2).

Turning point

This one was overwith relatively early, although Brown did make things interesting in the second half. Creighton led from the opening tip, pushed its lead into double digits less than six minutes through the first half, and pulled ahead 46-29 at the halftime break.

The Blue Jays took their biggest lead — 24 points — just before the midway point of the second half, going up 62-38 with 11 minutes, 22 seconds left on Shereef Mitchell’s layup.

But that’s when the Bears started to make things interesting — they started whittling away at Creighton’s lead, pulling within 14 points on Tamenang Choh’s dunk with 6:44 remaining to trail 66-52.

However, that’s as close as Brown would get, as the Blue Jays responded with a 12-3 run over the next five minutes, capped by Trey Alexander’s layup with 1:37 left for a 78-55 lead.

Key players

Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton: The 7-foot-1 sophomore center had a career night for the Blue Jays, making 9 of 13 from the field (but missing his lone 3-point attempt) and 1 for 1 on free throws. He also had five rebounds and two blocked shots.

Kino Lilly Jr., Brown: The 6-foot freshman guard was the Bears’ most consistent shooter, making 6 of 12 from the field — but he missed all five of his 3-point attempts. He also had two assists.


• Creighton shot better than 50% from the field for the second time in four games, making 33 of 59 attempts (55.9%). That’s the Blue Jays’ second-best game this season, trailing the 58.9% shooting against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in their season opener Nov. 9. Creighton also made 5 of 14 3-pointers and 7 of 11 free throws.

• Meanwhile, Brown had its worst shooting game of the season — and by a big margin. The Bears made 22 of 60 from the field (36.7%), far below the 45.2% they made in beating Johnson & Wales-Providence on Tuesday before leaving for St. Thomas. They also made just 4 of 22 3-pointers and 9 of 14 free throws.

• Both teams had 17 turnovers in Friday’s game, but Creighton was better able to take advantage of the extra scoring opportunities, with 21 points off turnovers to just 12 by Brown.

• The Bears did have more scoring from their reserves. Led by Lilly, Brown’s bench outscored Creighton’s reserves 25-8.

Up next

Creighton moves on to the semifinals, where they face 2017 Paradise Jam champion Colorado State at 6:45 p.m. Sunday. Meanwhile, Brown drops into the consolation round, playing Bradley at 4:15 p.m. today.