St. John’s basketball surges to top of Big East standings

St. John’s basketball surges to top of Big East standings
Junior forward Amber Thompson has picked up her game since Big East play began.
Photo courtesy of St. John’s Athletic Communications/Vincet Dusovic
By Joseph Staszewski

The St. John’s University women’s basketball team hasn’t forgotten October when the preseason Big East rankings were announced. The Red Storm was picked third and is now making it a point of trying to show the league’s coaches they were a little bit off.

“We kind of have a chip on our shoulder about that,” senior guard Eugeneia McPherson said. “We try not to worry about things like that, but our goal is to win the Big East tournament. When we were picked third, that kind of gave us an edge.”

St. John’s (16-1, 9-1) has used that edge as well as a deep and balanced roster to get off to a torrid start to conference play. The Red Storm won nine straight Big East games since losing on the road against Xavier on Jan. 5. They are 11-1 in their last 12 games with help from the return of McPherson from a torn ACL and the addition of Clemson transfer guard Danaejah Grant.

“I think we always felt we had a pretty good group that would jell and come together when we had everyone available,” St. John’s Coach Joe Tartamella said.

It hasn’t been easy. There were tight road wins over Marquette and Villanova before coming home and rallying to beat Georgetown and avenging the loss to Xavier with a lopsided 80-48 victory. St. John’s followed that up by taking out Seton Hall 69-48 in South Orange Feb. 1.

“Whatever that adversity is for that game, we find a way to win,” McPherson said.

She has been a big reason why.

McPherson, who recently scored her 1,000th career point, has exceled in the point guard role, a key position for a team capable of a balanced attack. She is averaging 8.8 points per game and is the team leader in assists, just ahead of freshman Aaliyah Lewis.

“I’m more confident in having that role,” she said. “Initially I wasn’t.”

McPherson has provided a steady hand running the offense, but Grant, a sophomore, has emerged as the team’s second lead scorer at 11.3 points per game. Her 5-foot-9 frame and strength are a handful for opposing defenders.

“She is much longer than people understand,” Tartamella said. “She can guard multiple positions. She can score at will. She has a chance to be a special player.”

Junior post Amber Thompson has also come on as conference play began, consistently recording double-doubles. That and the play off the bench of Keylantra Langley have taken some of the pressure off starting guards Briana Brown and Aliyyah Handford.

“When they are all hitting on all cylinders,” Tartamella said, “it’s fun to watch.”

They are proving to be tough to beat as well.

More from Around New York