By Joseph Staszewski
St. John’s chances for a run in the NCAA Tournament were over before they could get started.
The Red Storm women’s basketball team was unable to dig out of a 19-point hole in the second quarter before ultimately falling 68-57 to Auburn in their first-round game in Waco, Texas last Friday. St. John’s committed a season-high 25 turnovers, which lead to 32 Tigers’ points.
“I thought the first quarter they really affected us to open the game,” SJU coach Joe Tartamella told reporters post game. “Other than that I felt we held our own and actually played fairly even. But that first quarter bothered us a little bit.”
St. John’s, which trailed 25-6 in the second quarter, gradually played its way back into the game. It cut the deficit to as little 37-34 on a Danaejah Grant jump near the midway mark of the third period, but that was as close as it would get.
The Red Storm (23-10) could not make a big-enough run to even things up. St. John’s went scoreless for nearly four minutes, but the Tigers could only build their lead to 44-37 going to the fourth quarter. An Aliyyah Handford jumper to open the final frame got SJU to within 44-39, but it was all Auburn after that.
“I think even when we were able to get a couple runs, we couldn’t sustain it,” Tartamella said. “We would score twice and then we’d turn it over for points. It was kind of like a seesaw where we couldn’t really gain momentum over time.”
Grant scored a game-high 25 points in her final collegiate contest on 10-of-19 shooting, including four of her six tries from downtown. She also grabbed a team-high six boards. Fellow senior Handford also reached double figures in her final game at St. John’s, tallying 10 points, three rebounds and three assists. Sandra Udobi added six points and Janiah McKay led Auburn (20-12) with 24 points.
Handford and Grant end their careers as two of the best players in program history. Handford finishes as its all-time leading scorer with 2,058 points. Grant poured in 1,498 points in just 92 career games in Queens, good enough for ninth all-time in school history. The duo also helped to bring St. John’s its first Big East title since 1988 this season.
“We came into this season and we set a goal for ourselves, so we tried to take it one step at a time,” Grant said. “Obviously, we didn’t end how we wanted to, but everyone in our locker room, everyone here, had given their all all season, and that’s what we set for ourselves in the beginning.”
Tartamella knows Handford and Grant have left a legacy and an imprint on the program that will last even when they are gone.
“Their leadership, it may not be in words, it may be in how they play, and the toughness that they bring, the confidence that they give to others,” he said. “Now it’s [the other players’] turn to have to step into the light and be able to take on the things that Aliyyah and Danaejah have been able to do for us over the last few seasons.”