By Joseph Staszewski
The St. John’s University women’s basketball team couldn’t follow up its last-second victory over USC with an upset of No. 1-seeded Tennessee in the NCAA tournament.
The No. 8 Red Storm kept up with the Lady Vols for 30 minutes before falling 67-51 in the second round Tuesday night in Knoxville. Aliyyah Handford scored 23 points and grabbed four rebounds for St. John’s, which was looking to make the second Sweet 16 appearance in program history.
St. John’s, which never led Tennessee, tied the score at 39-39 with 16:59 left in the contest thanks to two Handford free throws.
But the Red Storm wasn’t able to find an offensive flow as the Lady Vols’ ability to get back to play defense quickly made it hard for St. John’s players to score in the paint. They shot five of 24 from the field and committed 13 turnovers after the break and scored just two points over the next nine minutes.
“We were just turning the ball over too much,” Handford said. “We were out of it.”
Her team went into the half down just 39-35, thanks to a last second three-pointer by Aaliyah Lewis. St. John’s used a matchup zone defense to keep itself in the game until late and flustered the Tennessee forwards. Jade Walker scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds for the Red Storm. Cierra Burdick led Tennessee (29-5) in scoring with 21 points and 11 rebounds and Meighan Simmons had 17 points.
“I thought we played a great first half, outside of the first three minutes,” Coach Joe Tartamella said. “I thought we played really well.”
St. John’s got to the game by knocking off Pac-12 champion and No. 9 seed USC 71-68 in the opening round Saturday, due to a Briana Brown three-pointer with four-tenths of a second left in the game. The basket was Brown’s only hoop of the game.
“Honestly, when I shot it I wasn’t really thinking anything,” Brown said. “I knew I hadn’t made a shot the whole game, but my teammates were behind me the whole way through and you’re going to get that shot. You’re going to make the next one, and it happened to be the big one.”
Junior forward Amber Thompson also tied her career high with 17 rebounds against the Trojans to break the program’s single-season record for rebounds with 304.
St. John’s finished the season 23-11 overall and placed second in the Big East during the regular season. The Red Storm lost to DePaul in the conference title game but still scored a spot in its fifth-straight NCAA tournament.
“I’m so proud of these kids right here who just fought their butts off to get to his point from where we started to where we are now,” Tartamella said. “I couldn’t be prouder.”