Jan. 17, 2012
QUEENS, N.Y. - As history has proven for three-straight games, the battle between St. John's and New Jersey-neighbor Rutgers is sure to be a tough physical battle, hard fought until the final buzzer sounds. Tuesday night was no different. Although the Red Storm never lost the lead in the last 11 minutes of the contest, the Scarlet Knights threatened right up until the final seconds. But the Red Storm was resilient down the stretch as the St. John's women's basketball team upset the No. 7/8 Scarlet Knights, 62-57, at Carnesecca Arena.
Head coach Kim Barnes Arico tallied her third-consecutive victory over the Rutgers, each win coming down to the final plays of the game. The win was also the second-straight victory for St. John's over a ranked opponent at Carnesecca Arena. The Red Storm also defeated then-No. 14/12 Louisville on Jan. 8, 72-64.
"Anytime you play Rutgers it's a battle and we really bounced back from our last game and stepped up to the challenge," remarked Barnes Arico. "I asked them at halftime to play with heart and we were able to do that in the second half and we got the win."
St. John's (12-7, 4-2 BIG EAST) was 26 of 32 from the free throw line in the game, including making 14 of 16 over the final 4.5 minutes.
Junior guard Eugeneia McPherson scored 17 points and junior point guard Nadirah McKenith added 15 to help the Red Storm shock the Scarlet Knights, having tallied their fifth win in six games. McKenith had an improbable behind-the-head off balance layup with time expiring on the Red Storm's possession to give St. John's the go-ahead 36-34 basket. St. John's would hold on to the lead for the next 11 minutes and the victory.
Similar to last season, it was a two-point game with 22 seconds left and free throws became the deciding factor.
After Khadijah Rushdan, who finished with Rutgers' high 16 points, was fouled on a jumper, she made the extra basket to cut St. John's five-point lead to two, 57-55. The Scarlet Knights fouled McPherson before she could even inbound the ball, keeping 22 seconds on the clock. McPherson made the first of two foul shots, giving St. John's a 58-55 lead.
The Red Storm quickly fouled the Scarlet Knights (15-3, 4-1) on the inbound freezing 18.8 seconds on the clock. Rutgers' Briyona Canty made both free throws cutting the Red Storm's lead to just one point, 58-57. Time literally stood still as once again Rutgers was able to foul the Red Storm with no time expiring off the clock. This time it was Shenneika Smith who went to the line to make her fifth and sixth free throws of the night, extending St. John's lead back to three, 60-57.
This time, the Red Storm refrained from fouling and April Sykes' long 3-ball missed to the left and after a scramble, McKenith came away with the rebound and a foul.
With seven seconds left in the game, McKenith went to the line to ice the game with two more free throws.
Smith finished with 14 points.
At the end of the first half, the Red Storm trailed 26-20 and made just six shots from the field. The rest were off eight points from the foul line. The Red Storm had rallied from a 15-6 deficit.
"We told them at the half we had to be more aggressive," Barnes Arico said. "The strength of our team is our ability to slash and get to the free throw line. In the first half we ran the shot clock down and got bad shots, in the second half we made the extra pass."
In the second period, the Red Storm shot 44.4 percent and outscored the Scarlet Knights 13-0 in points off turnovers.
McPherson scored seven of the team's first nine points in the second half to take a 29-28 lead. With the game tied at 34, McKenith hit an over-the-head fling on a drive with her back to the basket that went in and gave St. John's the lead for good. It sparked a 10-2 run that made it 44-36.
"The shot clock was running down and I tried to get to the basket," McKenith explained.
Rutgers trailed 44-41 before St. John's extended its lead to 52-43 with 2:35 left. Rushdan then took over for the Scarlet Knights refusing to let them go down quietly. She had eight points and an assist in the final few minutes.
The teams meet again on Feb. 12 in New Jersey.
The Red Storm defense held Rutgers' forward Sykes to just six points. She had previously been averaging 14.5 points per game. In last season's contest against the Scarlet Knights, the Red Storm held Sykes to 0-for-10 from the field.
Up next, St. John's will take to the road to play at Cincinnati on Jan. 21. The Red Storm and Bearcats will tip off at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Red Storm will then have a week break before hosting No. 2/2 Notre Dame at Carnesecca Arena on Saturday, Jan. 28.