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Russell rallies Redbirds past Creighton

(MCT) — NORMAL — A step behind Illinois State speedster Jamie Russell on a fast break, Creighton’s Ally Jensen knew she was in deep.

When Jensen’s reaching attempt to nudge Russell off stride met only air, Russell motored off for another layup. Actually, keeping tabs on Russell was a task that proved too much for the Bluejays all afternoon Sunday at Redbird Arena.

The senior guard scored six points in 30 seconds and recorded five second-half steals as the Redbirds rallied from a 10-point deficit to capture a 66-60 Missouri Valley Conference victory before a Play4Kay game crowd of 3,114.

“Russell took over the game,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “Russell just said ‘we’re not going to lose,’ I think that’s what happened as much as anything.”

While playing the entire 40 minutes, Russell finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and six steals to lift the Redbirds to 15-8 overall and 7-4 in the MVC, one game behind second-place Creighton at 8-3.

“Jamie played at a very high level the entire game,” said ISU coach Stephanie Glance. “I kept asking her if she needed a break the second half and she said no. She didn’t look like she needed a break.”

Creighton (16-6 overall) enjoyed a 49-41 lead when the Redbirds’ Russell-led matchup zone forced its will on the Bluejays.

All in a span of 30 seconds, Russell guided in an alley oop pass from Chloe Nelson, turned a steal into a layup and nailed a 15-foot jumper in transition to bring ISU within two.

“We know they are a 3-point threat. We needed to fly around with high hands,” Russell said. “They were throwing some skip passes, and we were very good at anticipating those. Our defense was our best weapon, and at the other end we got some easy buckets.”

Candace Sykes followed a baseline jumper with a steal and layup for a 51-49 ISU edge, the Redbirds’ first lead since 11-10. Jensen countered with a 3-pointer for the only Creighton points in nearly eight minutes.

“We made too many turnovers. I couldn’t burn enough timeouts in that stretch,” said Flanery. “They turned some things up defensively and we kind of melted down. I’m disappointed we couldn’t right the ship a little earlier.”

ISU capped a 21-3 surge with a Brianna Puni shot, two Russell buckets, an Alexis Foley 3-pointer and a 14-footer from Alexis Jenkins for a 62-52 cushion.

“It was a special team that played today,” Glance said. “They dug in at one point and found everything they could within them to lock it down on the defensive end and stay active.”

Jenkins scored 12 of her season-high 16 points in the first half to keep the Redbirds within six at the break.

“If the posts weren’t open I would look for my shot,” said Jenkins. “I didn’t hesitate at all. I was just being a point guard, really.”

The national leader in 3-pointers per game, Creighton did connect on 11 from beyond the arc in 32 attempts. Marissa Janning and Jensen combined for nine 3-pointers and led the Bluejays with 16 and 15 points, respectively.

Puni matched Russell’s seven rebounds as ISU gained a 37-34 edge on the boards. The Redbirds committed a season-low three turnovers and shot 44 percent from the field.

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