Creighton forward Sarah Nelson developed a pass-first mentality Wednesday night out of necessity.
“I couldn't make a shot,” Nelson said, “so I might as well pass it to someone that can.”
Nelson's mindset resulted in a career-high nine assists as the Bluejays won for the fifth time in the last six game. McKenzie Fujan scored 17 points and Marissa Janning added 16 in the 70-50 win over Seton Hall before 993 at D.J. Sokol Arena.
Nelson finished with eight points to go along with 14 rebounds and her nine assists. That left her two points and one assist shy of becoming just the third player in program history to record a triple-double.
“Someone came to me at the four-minute mark and said she was that close to a triple-double,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “I said, 'Tell her to make a shot.' It's not like she didn't get enough shots up.”
Nelson finished the game 2 of 11 from the field, but the teammates she set up with her passing helped offset her cold shooting night. Fujan made 6 of 8 shots, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range. Janning had five baskets, but four came from beyond the arc.
Two of her 3-point baskets came as she scored eight straight points in a decisive 14-0 run midway through the second half. Seton Hall (16-11, 7-9) had used a 7-0 spurt to pull within 39-37 on Bra'Shey Ali's basket with 12:28 remaining.
Fujan started Creighton's run with two free throws, and then Janning hit back-to-back 3-point shots off assists from Nelson. Janning's two free throws and baskets by Alexis Akin-Otiko and Jordan Garrison closed out the spurt that left Creighton with a 53-39 lead with 7:52 to play.
Seton Hall, which was led by Ka-Deidre Simmons' 18 points, never got closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
The Bluejays improved to 18-10 and moved into a second-place tie in the Big East with St. John's. The Red Storm lost their third straight game Wednesday, leaving the two teams at 12-4, a game behind league-leading DePaul.
Before its recent hot streak, Creighton appeared headed for a middle-of-the-pack finish in its first season in the league. With two games to go, the Bluejays still have a chance to achieve their preseason goal of winning a title.
“I give a lot of credit to Flan because he's kept telling us that we can do this, that we can win,” Nelson said. “I don't know how many times he's told us in the past couple of weeks that we're a really good team right now but we can be a great team.
“That's really motivated me to see what I can do to step up and make us go from really good to great.”
Against the Pirates, one of Nelson's contributions was finding seams in their 2-3 zone defense and then zipping passes to teammates for open shots. Nelson, who led all post players in the country last season in assists, used the nine she dealt out Wednesday to take over the team lead with 106, two more than Janning.
“When people ask me about my assists, I laugh,” Nelson said. “Half the time, I don't even do anything. I just give them the easy pass and they're the ones that make the hard shots. The assists are all them.”
While she downplays her passing ability, Nelson's teammates recognize the value she brings to the team.
“It really gives us an advantage because you don't really have many post players that can do that,” Fujan said. “For her to see the floor the way she does, it opens up the floor for the rest of us. She puts the passes on target and makes it easy.”