KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Junior McKenzie Fujan scored a career-high 24 points as Creighton held off a late Syracuse rally to beat the Orange 61-56 and earn its first NCAA tournament victory since 1994.
The win moved Creighton to 25-7 on the season, while Syracuse closed its season at 24-8. Creighton advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994, when the Jays defeated Bowling Green (84-73) before falling to Texas Tech (75-65).
The Bluejays' opening possession set the tone for the opening 10 minutes as the Jays grabbed three offensive rebounds. Despite getting four looks the Jays came away empty handed, still Creighton showed Syracuse a tenacity that would prove pivotal.
Creighton continued to struggle from the field early as the Orange built a 14-5 lead with 10:26 remaining.
Everything changed, however, at 9:59 with a three-ball from Fujan. The Weston, Neb., native found a sweet spot on the left wing to cut it to 14-8. Following a defensive stop, freshman Marissa Janning found Fujan in the same spot with the identical result.
Down 17-12 moments later, Janning found Fujan wide open along the left wing a third time. She delivered again, drawing a timeout from Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman with 6:04 left.
After an Orange bucket, junior Carli Tritz found the range from beyond the arc. Another Creighton defensive stand gave Fujan a chance to give the Jays the lead, the 5-11 guard took delivered Creighton's first lead (21-20) with 2:32 left.
A traditional three-point play by junior Sarah Nelson sent the Jays to half knotted at 24-24, riding the wave of a 19-10 run.
Fujan had 17 points for Creighton in the opening period, shooting 6-of-7 from the field, including 5-of-6 six from beyond the arc.
Riding the momentum of the opening period, Creighton outscored Syracuse 9-2 to build a 33-26 lead. Fujan converted a layup to open the scoring, but Janning provided five points to lead the Jays' charge.
The second half saw each team exchange runs as Syracuse tied the game at 33-33 only to watch the Jays rattle off six straight on interior buckets from sophomore Alexis Akin-Otiko and Nelson.
Up 39-37, Creighton took control of the game with an 8-0 run. Once more it was Fujan leading the charge with sixth trey of the game. Tritz followed with a back-door layup and Janning capped the run with another trifecta to make it 47-37 (8:39 remaining).
Syracuse pounded the ball inside to their All-Big East center, Kayla Alexander, but Nelson drained a couple of three-balls to keep Creighton's lead at 10, 55-45 with 4:54 left.
One last dash from the Orange made it a one possession game (55-52), but Janning, Fujan and Nelson each nailed two free throws to give the Jays the 61-56 win.
Fujan's 24 led all scorers, while Nelson finished with 17 points and Janning added 10 for the Jays.
Alexander finished with 23 points to lead the Orange, while Carmen Tyson-Thomas chipped in 13 points.
Creighton advances to face No. 2 Tennessee at 6 p.m. (CT). The Lady Vols downed No. 15 Oral Roberts, 83-62, in the late game on Saturday, March 23.
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