Feb. 1, 2011
QUEENS, N.Y. - The showdown between regional BIG EAST Conference rivals, No. 23 St. John's and Rutgers, looked as though it would be over early after the Red Storm held the Scarlet Knights to their lowest first half score of the season. Instead, the Red Storm decided to give its fans that braved the icy storm outside a bit of excitement as St. John's battled to hold on to a 51-48 victory in the final 10 seconds of Tuesday night's thriller.
The win was the second-straight victory over Rutgers for St. John's head coach Kim Barnes Arico, and just the fifth-ever in 36 meetings between the two teams.
"That was a really exciting game obviously. We turned the ball over in the second half, but I was really proud of the way we hung together. We could've fallen apart once they took the lead and we didn't," remarked Barnes Arico. "We had a balanced attack tonight. At the end, we wanted to get something going to the basket where if we didn't finish, we would at least get it to the free throw line. We made the play that we had to make at the end and it's a great win for our program and hopefully it's a great win to help us get into the NCAA Tournament."
With 10 minutes left in the game, St. John's (16-6, 5-4 BIG EAST) led by 10, 37-27, before Rutgers (12-9, 5-3 BIG EAST) turned the tide and tied the game at 38-38 with 7:47 left. The two squads traded baskets down to the wire and with 1:39 left in the game, St. John's and Rutgers were knotted at 47.
It was there the race to the end began.
With 1:06 ticking off the game clock, Rutgers' Khadijah Rushdan stole the ball at midcourt and was fouled under the basket as she attempted a jumper. Rushdan sunk the second of two free throws to give the Scarlet Knights a 48-47 advantage with just over a minute to play (1:01).
There was nine seconds on the game clock at Carnesecca Arena when St. John's sophomore guard Nadirah McKenith drove through and over two Rutgers defenders in the paint to give St. John's back its lead, 49-48.
With 2.2 seconds left in the game, Rutgers' Erica Wheeler went to the free throw line for a chance to give Rutgers the possible game-winning lead. With the St. John's faithful on their feet, Wheeler missed the first free throw as the ball bounced off the rim to the sounds of exhaling Red Storm fans nervous from anticipation in the stands. Wheelers' next shot hit nothing but net, and it seemed as though the Red Storm and Scarlet Knights would take their regional-rivalry to overtime. However, as the shot went off, Rutgers' April Sykes, took her steps toward the basket a second too fast as she was called for a lane violation and Wheeler's game-tying basket no longer counted.
Leading by one, 49-48 with 2.2 seconds still left on the clock, St. John's had the final possession of the game and a renewed sense of confidence.
Rutgers wasted no time and fouled sophomore guard Shenneika Smith on the inbound play as she was sent to the line to shoot two.
Smith hit both shots, putting the Red Storm up by three, 51-48, as the Red Storm fans who braved the icy conditions got renewed energy and filled the court with cheers.
Rutgers threw up a last-ditch bomb from way beyond half court; but it bounced off the backboard, close to the rim, as the Red Storm crowd went wild as St. John's came away with the exciting victory.
Sophomore guard Amanda Burakoski had a career-night against Rutgers as she proved to be the spark off the bench, setting career highs in points (16), 3-pointers (4), field goals (5) and free throws (2).
"This was definitely our biggest game," said Burakoski. "We've had a bunch of tough losses, but we knew we had to pull it together for this one. At the end, everybody was nervous, but we're a team and we knew that we had to pull through get this win. If it was by 10 or if it was by one, you get the win."
Despite the exciting ending, the first half of the game told an entirely different story as St. John's led 25-15 at halftime, holding Rutgers to a season-low scoring effort for the opening stanza. St. John's used a 16-0 run to take an 18-6 lead with 7:12 left in the first period. The Red Storm held the Scarlet Knights scoreless for 8:56 after Rutgers had led 6-2 through the first five minutes of play.
It took just under two minutes for either team to score as Rutgers got the first points up on the board with a layup from Chelsey Lee at 18:11. Senior Centhya "Coco" Hart put up the first points for St. John's with an inside jumper set up by Stevens, three minutes later.
Rutgers scored two quick baskets to take a 6-2 lead with 13:51 on the clock.
Burakoski sparked the 16-0 run for the Red Storm hitting an open 3 from the right baseline with 12:28 left in the half. Baskets from Da'Shena Stevens, Smith and a long ball from McKenith helped the Red Storm take a 13-6 advantage with 10:01 on the clock. Coming in from the eight-minute official time out, it was Burakoski again with a 3-pointer that went right for the net to put St. John's up by 10, 16-6. On the following Rutgers possession, Burakoski grabbed a steal midcourt but was fouled on her fastbreak drive toward the rim. She hit both free throws to put St. John's ahead 18-6.
Rutgers finally scored as Wheeler made a 3-pointer with 5:01 left in the half.
However, St. John's hung on to the momentum as Burakoski hit her third 3 of the half, to put St. John's ahead by its largest margin, 25-11 with just under three minutes to play. St. John's went into the halftime break up 25-15.
In the second half, Burakoski's fourth 3-pointer of the game once again put the Red Storm up by 14, 34-20, before Rutgers surmounted a come back that would take the teams to the final seconds of the game.
St. John's held Rutgers' leading scorer, Sykes, to a stat line which consisted of 0-for-10 shooting, five turnovers and just six boards. Sykes was averaging over 14.7 points per game.
Burakoski was the only Red Storm player to score in double-figures. Smith added nine points while Stevens and McKenith had eight each. Smith, Stevens and McKenith led with six rebounds each.
St. John's outscored Rutgers 24-15 off turnovers and 17-0 in points off the bench.
The three-point win was St. John's closest margin of victory this season and closest since last season's 68-65 win over Syracuse on Jan. 27. 2010.
St. John's will look to extend its winning streak to three games as the Red Storm takes to the road to play Marquette on Saturday, Feb. 5 in Milwaukee, Wis. The game is scheduled for 8 p.m. (ET); 7 p.m. (CT) at the Al McGuire Center. It is just the eighth-ever meeting between these two teams.