KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Marissa Janning’s debut in the NCAA tournament got off to a rocky start, but it had a happy ending.
Janning this season became the first Creighton freshman to earn first-team All-Missouri Valley honors, but she struggled early against Syracuse.
The Bluejays’ leading scorer this season — averaging 12.9 points a game — airballed her first 3-point attempt and went 0 for 6 from behind the arc in the first half.
She finally got on the board early in the second half with a pair of free throws, and less than a minute later bounced in a 3-pointer, pumping both fists excitedly in response.
She ended up with 10 points, including two 3-pointers.
Janning said she was a little nervous at first.
“I just knew I had to keep shooting ... My first one was an airball and then my next ones I just kept getting closer and closer, so I knew that I was bound to hit at least one sometime.”
Playing against an aggressive full-court press, Creighton coach Jim Flanery pulled the freshman early in the game.
The coach said Janning has struggled the last couple of weeks, attributing it to pressure situations and adjusting to the length of a college season.
“She was shaky early,” he said. “Her decision-making wasn’t what ... we’ve come to expect. But the thing I love about her, and this is really tough for freshmen, I think she can pull herself out of a bad stretch or two. A lot of freshmen, they get off to a bad start, it’s hard for them to hit ... rewind or hit start again and then play well the rest of the game. And I think she can do that.”
Jays locked in on Alexander
Creighton’s defensive focus was on stopping Kayla Alexander, Syracuse’s star center who averaged 17.8 points a game this year on her way to first-team All-Big East honors.
The senior from Milton, Ontario, was held to six points in the first half, but finished with 23, including nine free throws.
Creighton’s strategy focused on double-teaming Alexander before her teammates could get her the ball.
Bluejay forward Sarah Nelson said they had watched film of Villanova playing against Syracuse, and noticed “how they cheated off their point guard” to help guard the post.
Flanery credited Nelson with doing “a really good job” defending Alexander in the last 12 minutes of the game, although the junior from Omaha Westside deflected the praise.
“I think Flan’s being a little nice,” she said. “(Alexander) had (a) couple and-ones on me.”
“She’s obviously a really good player and ... I think it’s one of those times where you know that you have to just try to contain her as best as you possibly can and kind of hope that other people contain the other people and then she’s really the only one that kind of would go off.”
Asked about her emotions after the game, Alexander said “Honestly right now I’m kind of in shock. ... This wasn’t the way we thought or planned or imagined this would end. We had such high expectations for ourselves and this wasn’t how we expected it to finish.”
CU ruled the boards
While Creighton struggled to make shots in the first half, it wasn’t for lack of opportunities.
The Bluejays grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in the first half, and outrebounded Syracuse 43-35 for the game.
Orange coach Quentin Hillsman said many of those were long rebounds which resulted from 3-point attempts. On its first possession, in fact, Creighton took four shots, missing all of them.
“They outrebounded us, and that’s our strength is rebounding and guarding the 3-point line,” he said.
Hillsman praised his team, though.
“The one thing that I definitely know that it wasn’t is our team’s effort,” he said. “Because they go every night, every game, every minute, because I don’t let them do anything different.”
Flanery indicated his team’s rebounding production dropped off after Alyssa Kamphaus picked up her fourth foul and the team went to a four-guard lineup.
“The one thing we couldn’t account for was (Brittney) Sykes’ ability to jump over us and get a rebound,” he said.
Sykes, a 5-foot-9 guard, tallied 12 rebounds in the game, including a whopping nine offensive boards.
— Josh Flory