ST. CHARLES, Mo. — Southern Illinois pulled off one upset Thursday night. Another was not in the cards Friday.
Creighton ran to a big halftime lead and cruised to a 60-43 victory Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament at The Family Arena.
The Bluejays, seeded second, will face No. 3 seed Illinois State at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Redbirds were 59-48 winners against sixth-seeded Bradley on Friday.
“We won the game with our defense in the first half,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “The second half wasn’t as good. We certainly weren’t crisp, offensively, but I really like what we did defensively in the first half.”
Creighton (24-6) won 61-42 against SIU in the regular-season finale last Saturday. The Bluejays had a much easier time Friday against the overmatched Salukis, who struggled to score all game. Creighton limited SIU to 15 field goals on 55 attempts and forced 17 turnovers.
Cartaesha Macklin, who scored 32 in Thursday’s upset of Evansville, was held to two points Friday. Flanery said the defensive focus was to “wall off” Macklin, especially in transition.
“It was very frustrating,” Macklin said. “They did a good job of clogging up the paint and I couldn’t get my shot off.”
Bluejay freshman Marissa Janning and junior Sarah Nelson said facing the Salukis a week ago helped them create a game plan to stop Macklin.
Watching her “go off” on Thursday cemented that strategy.
“There’s no one in the league like her,” Nelson said of the 5-foot-6 sophomore. “She can really get up the floor and go through all five people to get to the rim. What really helped was watching that game (Thursday) night and seeing how effective she can be.”
Southern Illinois (5-26) had one conference win all season and snapped a 16-game losing streak with Thursday’s overtime victory.
Friday’s game was sloppy early as the teams traded turnovers on a pair of passes that sailed out of bounds without anybody getting a hand on the ball. Neither team converted a field goal until SIU’s Rishonda Napier drained a jumper more than three minutes in to tie it 2-2.
Creighton matched the bucket on the other end to start a 9-0 run, highlighted by a long 3-pointer from Jordan Garrison before Salukis interim coach Adrianne Harlow called a timeout with 14:21 remaining in the first half.
“We felt like the start was critical to what their psyche was going to be,” Flanery said. “As the more tired team, the longer you stay in the game, the more belief you’re going to have.
“Getting some separation early was good for us. We could put the hammer down and give them doubt. It was big. I don’t know if that was huge, but it was pretty big to get on them early.”
Southern Illinois didn’t make another field goal until Sidney Goins scored with 7:49 remaining in the half. Creighton was up 20-6 at that point and led 31-9 at halftime. The Jays held SIU to 3-of-19 shooting (15.8 percent) from the floor and two offensive rebounds in the half.
“We struggled to score in the first half, but credit Creighton, their defense is just really good,” said Harlow, whose team set a program low for points in a half.
“Our energy just wasn’t the same as it was (Thursday),” Harlow said. “They did a lot of trapping and it was hard for our girls to face. Unfortunately when they took us out of our game, instead of fighting back, we kind of fell into it and there was a snowball effect. We got frustrated and lost our confidence.”
Napier scored the first points of the second half on a 3-pointer and Southern Illinois played better in the final 20 minutes. The Salukis got as close as 45-32 with 7:32 remaining. Napier led Southern Illinois with a game-high 20 points. Creighton got points from seven players, led by 11 apiece from Janning and Garrison.
As bad as the Salukis were from the floor, it’s not like the Bluejays lit it up. Creighton shot 34.4 percent and knows it needs to clean that up quickly.
“That game will not be on ESPN Classic anytime,” Flanery quipped.
He attributed the poor shooting to conference tourney jitters, namely from senior Ally Jensen, who did not score after missing all five of her shots.
“We have to be a lot better,” Nelson said. “I rushed some shots, even though they were wide open. It’s a credit to our team that players like Jordan Garrison stepped up. Anyone on our team can make shots when we need it.”
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• Video: Postgame press conference: