Dec. 18, 2011
QUEENS, N.Y. - In stark contrast to yesterday's first round of games, the St. John's women's basketball squad flexed its collective muscles early, jumping out to a 14-point lead in the first half. Memphis would never fully recover as the Red Storm recorded its fourth-straight St. John's-Chartwells Holiday Classic champion title with a 64-60 win over the Tigers.
St. John's (7-5) led by Shenneika Smith's 18 points, gave Memphis its first loss in seven games. Smith went 8-for-14 in the contest, with 14 points in the first half. Fellow guard Eugeneia McPherson recorded her seventh-straight game in double digits as she finished with a second-best 13 points against the Tigers.
McPherson, who had 20 points against Prairie View A&M in Saturday's opening round of games, earned her first-ever Mrs. Eleanor Taffner Tournament MVP award. The junior averaged 16.5 points per game in tournament play. Smith was also named to the All-Tournament team, as well as senior forward Da'Shena Stevens, who had 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in the Holiday Classic final. Although she did not start, Stevens played 29 minutes of Sunday's game against Memphis. It was just her second game appearance after sitting out the first 10 contests with a knee injury.
"It was a really good basketball game," remarked head coach Kim Barnes Arico. "Memphis is a good team and we knew that they were going to give us a great game. We knew it would be tough without Nadirah McKenith, but everyone stepped up to the challenge. Shenneika had a great game and we saw signs of Da'Shena Stevens doing a great a job, a lot more than yesterday. We got a little sloppy late in the second half, but we have some kids handling the ball that aren't accustomed to doing it for long periods of time and against the type of pressure that Memphis gave us. To credit Memphis, they did a great job, but we made the plays down at the end and got big rebounds and big steals. It's a great win and I'm excited."
From Memphis (9-2), Brittany Carter and Jasmine Lee joined McPherson, Smith and Stevens on the all-tournament team. Carter sunk a game-high 23 points against St. John's, shooting 10-for-24 from the floor.
Louisiana Tech defeated Prairie View A&M, 89-83, in a triple-overtime thriller in the consolation game. Louisiana Tech's Jasmine Bendolph was also named to the All-Tournament team.
With the victory, St. John's is 8-0 in its Holiday Classic. The Red Storm advances to 6-1 at Carnesecca Arena, winning the last five games at home after losing the season-opener to St. Bonaventure.
By 11:48 in the first half, St. John's had taken a 22-8 lead over Memphis. The closest the Tigers would get in the first period was within six, 29-23, after a 3-pointer from Danay Collier with a little more than six minutes on the clock. A jumper and one from Smith drawing a foul under the rim put St. John's back up 32-23 and the Red Storm continued to climb back to a 38-25 lead with 2:44 left in the half.
A pair of free throws by Memphis' point guard Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir a jumper from Lee brought the game back to seven, 38-31. But a jumper under the hoop from Red Storm senior Tesia Harrisput ST. John's back up nine, 40-31 at the half.
St. John's continued to lead in the second period, as two free throws by sophomore guard Keylantra Langley gave St. John's a 46-35 lead at 16:51. Memphis countered with a 10-2 run to get within three, 48-45 with 15 minutes to play. McPherson broke the run by making both free throws on the next St. John's possession and rookie Amber Thompson added a jumper in the paint to widen the gap to seven, 52-45.
By 7:16 left in the game, St. John's lead went back up double digits, 58-48, as Harris sunk a jumper from outside the paint.
Memphis rallied back from the 10-point deficit to challenge St. John's lead as Carter hit two 3's down the stretch to help the Tigers to a one-possession game, 62-60 with less than two minutes to play.
After missed shots and turnovers by both teams, a foul by Carter with 1.1 seconds on the clock put Langley at the foul line. Langley hit both free throws to solidify the Red Storm's Holiday Classic victory, 64-60.
Up next, St. John's will take to the road to play Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. The Red Storm and Crimson have only met once before, in the 2009 WNIT First Round. The Red Storm and Crimson will tip off at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 22 before breaking for the holidays.