Monday, March 7, 2016

St. John's erases all doubts against DePaul

                              Photo Credit: Geno Green

March Madness can bring the best out of any team. 

For the No. 4-seeded St. John's Red Storm (22-9), adversity stared right in front of their faces with the top-seeded DePaul Blue Demons (25-8) on the other side of the court and a potential 0-3 mark head-to-head this season.

Trailing 45-35 with 3:16 left in the third quarter, St. John's looked to be near the end of the road, when out of thin air, it clamped down on defense and went on a 6-0 run to close the quarter.

Back-to-back turnovers from DePaul's Mart'e Grays and Brooke Schulte, which turned into uncontested layups on the other end by Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant, respectively, led to another 9-0 run in the fourth quarter as St. John's pulled a 75-66 upset on DePaul in the BIG EAST semifinal round on Monday night.

"[We] were able to get a deflection or get kind of a dig-down on their bigs, on their entry passes, so we just kind of got -- because of our activity, we got the ability to get a steal and then be able to run out," St. John's coach Joe Tartamella said.

DePaul coach Doug Bruno saw the writing on the wall with confusion on offense throughout the majority of the game.

"We were up [45-35] and went offensively dysfunctional and simultaneous to them scoring the ball," Bruno said. "That's where the game went in a nutshell. We did some uncharacteristic [things] - - we are one of the smartest teams in America and one of the smartest groups of human beings I am blessed to be around. We did some pretty unintelligent things [tonight]."

18 of Handford's game-high 23 points came in the second half and gave credit to her teammates for making plays happen at the right time.

"Yeah, I was just happy for me and my teammates, and we were on in the fourth quarter, and we kept going and never let down," Handford said. "We just kept picking ourselves up, each other up, and when I scored that bucket, I was just more than happy because we kept getting up."

Grant followed right along with a double-double (22 points and 10 rebounds) for the Red Storm.

"I think we just complement each other," Grant said. "When she's on, the defense tends to focus on her, then it opens up lanes for me, and vice versa."

Chicago native Akina Wellere (Brooks Prepatory School) averaged 4.9 points per game on the season, but came up clutch with 12 points, highlighted by a three-point make with 2:47 left in the game to put St. John's ahead 63-55.

With St. John's focusing most of its defensive coverage on DePaul's Megan Podkowa, Chanise Jenkins and Jessica January, Megan Grant and Ashton Millender stepped up and combined for 28 points in a losing effort.

"Well, Ashton has been getting better all along and she's had a good run down the stretch here, and that is why we brought Ashton here," Bruno said. "That is what Ashton is all about. She didn't play over her head; that's what Ashton is."

Looking Ahead:

The No. 4 seed St. John's Red Storm and the No. 7 seed Creighton Bluejays meet in the BIG EAST Championship game tomorrow night at 7 p.m. on FS1.

Both teams split the two meetings in the regular season and Tartamella focused on the 64-57 loss to Creighton on Feb. 28 as motivation.

"You look at how [Creighton] plays, we beat them at their place, they beat us at our place," Tartamella said. They're a very disciplined team who can make outside shots if they get hot. [MC] McGrory is playing very well, [Audrey] Faber is playing very well, but their other guys are great, too."

Buckle up and expect the unexpected as the BIG EAST Tournament has shown thus far in the first three days.

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