St. John’s can’t close out DePaul in first place battle

By Joseph Staszewski

Free throw shooting has not been St. John’s strong point the last two seasons. The Red Storm, however, has made them when it counted most. It is what made the misses by stars Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant at the end of regulation against DePaul that much more surprising.

“When Danaejah is on the line and Alliyyah is on the line I expect them to close the game,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “They have done that in their careers and they will do it again. Today, we just weren’t able to do that.”

Failure to seal the win in regulation led to an eventual 84-75 loss to DePaul in a game for first place in the Big East women’s basketball standings Saturday afternoon at Carnesecca Arena.

St. John’s, which led by four with a minute to go, shot just 2 of 6 at the free throw line in the final two minutes. Blue Devils star Brittany Hrynko (25 points) hit a three to cut the lead to 72-71 with 20 seconds left in regulation of a rematch of last year’s Big East title game won by DePaul (13-5, 5-1).

Grant (23 points) made the first of two free throws, but missed the second. Amber Thompson was called for a foul on the rebound. DePaul’s Brooke Schulte made both of her shots from the charity stripe to tie the score at 73-73 with 17 second left.

Handford’s final three-point attempt was no good and the teams headed to overtime. DePaul outscored the Red Storm 11-2 in the extra session. St. John’s shot 6 of 16 from the free throw line for the game.

“As much as we practice them and we shoot on the floor, it is just situational,” Grant said of the free throw misses. “Some games we’re on, some games we are off. It just comes with the day.”

This game included a pretty electric atmosphere in Queens thanks to it being field trip day. All the kids resulted in an energetic crowd of 5,602, the first sellout of a women’s basketball game in St. John’s history. It beats the crowd of 5,018 that saw St. John’s top USF on Feb. 8, 2012.

“It’s a great thing to have that big crowd,” Handford said. “It provided a lot of energy.”

It appeared the fans were going to be treated to another Red Storm win after a superb play by Handford, who scored a team-high 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds. She made a leaping steal of a Hrynko pass at the top of the key. Handford picked it up and got the basket and the foul down the other end. The three-point play gave St. John’s (13-4, 4-2) a 67-65 lead with 3:33 to go in the game after DePaul lead much of the second half.

The Blue Demons, who hit 12 three-pointers in the game, did not let the game get away from them.

“After St. John’s put themselves in position to steal the game from us,” DePaul coach Doug Bruno said, “we did steal it. We stole it back.”

The Red Storm, who bounced back with a 67-52 win over Marquette Sunday, missed a chanced to grab a home victory over the defending conference champions and have lost three straight in the budding rivalry with the Blue Demons. They get another crack at them in Chicago Feb. 15.

“DePaul is a great program,” Grant said. “When we meet them next time hopefully it will end different.”

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