By Joseph Staszewski
Aliyyah Handford had spent much of the Red Storm’s previous game, against Duquesne, on the bench with foul trouble, unable to reach double figures in scoring for just the second time this season as St. John’s lost.
But the senior guard wasted no time getting back in the swing of things to lead her team to a 73-54 bounce-back win over Fairfield in nonconference women’s basketball at Carnesecca Arena on Dec. 22.
Handford scored 15 of her game-high 22 points in the first half, after tallying just nine against Duquesne on Dec. 19 in a loss that snapped an eight-game winning streak. She also shot 10 of 13 from the field, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out six assists.
“Since I got in foul trouble last game it was an awful game,” Handford said. “I felt like I needed to come back and be a better player.”
Beating Fairfield pushes the Red Storm’s record 9-2 and propels them into Big East play on the heels of a victory. St. John’s opens its slate Dec. 29 at Crieghton and visits Providence on New Year’s Eve.
“This was important going into the break that we were able to hold our serve at home,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “The second quarter I think set the tone, where we were able to open it up a little bit”
The Red Storm got out in transition and went on a 10-2 run to end the first quarter and grab the lead for good at 19-13. Fairfield got to within 29-21 with 2:58 to go in the second quarter, but St. John’s closed the frame on a 7-2 run to take a 36-23 lead into the half.
Handford had consecutive hoops during the spurt, including a layup after a perfectly timed in-and-out move to the hoop. She then made the extra pass to find Crystal Simmons (six points) for an open three at the top—the key that capped their team’s first-half scoring.
The play was indicative of the patience St. John’s showed on offense all afternoon. It helped the Red Storm shoot 5-for-7 from three-point range.
“Making the extra passes, people being able to make shots, we just hope that it carries over to the next game,” senior guard Danaejah Grant said.
The Red Storm used ball movement to put the game away in the fourth quarter. St. John’s, which led by as many as 19, swung the ball around the perimeter and found Jade Walker open in the post for the basket and the foul. The traditional three-point play put the Red Storm up 60-42 with 6:18 to go in the game.
Grant scored 16 points and grabbed eight boards, and Walker added 13 points and six rebounds. Casey Smith paced Fairfield (4-6) with 15 points and former St. Joseph Hill standout Kelsey Carey added 12.
It was a performance that gives St. John’s confidence going into Big East games. Tartamella was happy to see his club quickly rebound from its first loss in a month.
“You can watch teams sputter and then have a bad game and they continue to get into quicksand and they keep going down,” Tartamella said. “It was important for us to bounce back.”