With first place in the Missouri Valley Conference on the line, the Creighton women’s basketball team sent a strong message Friday.
The Bluejays easily disposed of one of the top teams in the Valley with a 64-45 rout of Illinois State in front of 1,324 at Sokol Arena.
Sarah Nelson recorded her 14th career double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds, and freshman Marissa Janning, who scorched the nets by averaging 18 points in the Creighton’s first two Valley games, added 11 points.
The Redbirds entered the contest boasting a 10-3 record — 2-0 in the Valley — with the top rebounding team in the conference and three scorers averaging double figures.
But the Creighton defense was up to the task, holding Illinois State to 28.8 percent (17 of 59) shooting and outrebounding the Redbirds 38-37.
Nelson had the primary task of defending the Valley’s second-leading scorer, Janae Smith, who entered the game averaging 16.6 points.
Smith ended up with nine points to lead Illinois State, making just 3 of 12 from the field. Nelson said she had plenty of help defending Smith as the Bluejay guards collapsed on her when needed. Nelson also credited coach Jim Flanery’s scouting report.
“We talked about what shoulder she likes to turn and things like that,” Nelson said. “We also trapped down, and so I thought the point guard defenders did a really good job of helping me out, and they made my life a lot easier in that sense.”
Flanery said his team, which entered the game ranked ninth out of 10 teams in the Valley in rebounding margin, faced an uphill battle against the top rebounding team in the conference.
“The rebounding was the key. I told our team that they were the best rebounding team in the league, and we’re one of the worst, and I said that’s going to be key,” Flanery said. “Sarah had the 12 rebounds, but I thought our guards did a good job of coming down and helping. If we can fix that part of our game, we’re going to be even better.”
All 10 Bluejays who checked into the game scored at least two points.
Trailing 5-2, Creighton put together an 18-4 run to take a 20-9 lead with 11:18 remaining until halftime.
That advantage held up just long enough to get the Jays through a drought that would see them go scoreless through the next 6:31 as the Redbirds cut their deficit to 20-17 on a Candace Sykes 3-pointer with 6:08 left in the half.
“We had a little stretch there where we weren’t doing so good,” Nelson said. “We got stops that we needed to get and things like that.”
The Bluejay offense reappeared in the final minutes of the half as Creighton outscored Illinois State 15-6 to take a 35-23 lead to the locker room.
The Bluejays, who improved to 11-3 overall and 3-0 in the Valley, will take on Indiana State on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Sokol.
The Sycamores ran their record to 10-4 (2-1 Valley) with a 67-49 win at Drake on Friday.
Contact the writer: