Fast start, Handford propel St. John’s past Wagner

By Joseph Staszewski

In the preseason, the St. John’s women’s basketball team talked about how its length and athleticism would give opposing offenses trouble and how guard Aliyyah Handford’s jumper shot was much improved.

Both were evident in a lopsided 71-49 victory over Wagner at Carnesecca Arena Sunday afternoon The Red Storm’s aggressiveness and quickness advantage stifled the Wagner offense in the first half. SJU held the Seahawks to just seven field goals and 25 percent shooting. The Red Storm led 37-16 at the break and never looked back.

“We came out more ready today than we were the last couple of games defensively,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “I was very happy to see us disrupt what they were trying to do.”

As the Seahawks struggled for good looks because of St. John’s hands constantly in their faces, nearly everything seemed to fall early for the Red Storm. They jumped out to a 12-0 lead and used a 15-2 run to go up 32-8 with 5:38 to go in the first half. Handford scored a game-high 21 points on 10 of 14 shooting and added eight rebounds. Six of the junior’s buckets were quality and in rhythm jump shots.

“I felt great about my shot selections,” Handford said. “I didn’t rush any shots.”

Wagner crept back into the game late. Rockaway Park native Jasmine Nwajei scored a team-high 21 points. Her layup pulled the Seahawks (0-5) within 58-41 with 6:12 to go in the game. St. John’s starters came back in to close out the contest.

Amber Thompson scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for St. John’s, which got 14 points from its bench. Danaejah Grant. Lyndsay Rowe and Ugo Nwaigwe each had eight points for a Wagner team that features four players from Queens.

St. John’s (5-0) is off the best start in Tartamella’s three seasons at the helm, including wins over Florida and Marist.

The Red Storm were picked to finish second in the Big East this season after reaching the title game and a fifth straight NCAA tournament a year ago. There is still plenty of progress to be made, but the strong start has been encouraging to see.

“It’s always good to be undefeated,” Thompson said. “But we got to work harder and bring more each time to maintain that.”