Dec. 22, 2013
NEW YORK, N.Y. -
Sophomore guard Aliyyah Handford scored the game-winning basket with 2.8 seconds remaining and finished with a game-high 27 points as the St. John's women's basketball team marked its return to "The World's Most Famous Arena," Madison Square Garden, with a 72-70 victory over No. 24 Texas A&M in a matinee matchup at the Maggie Dixon Classic on Sunday.
Handford's last-gasp layup gave the sophomore her fifth 20-plus scoring performance of the season and clinched the Red Storm's first victory over a ranked opponent since March 3, 2012, when St. John's defeated No. 18/21 Louisville, 68-61, in the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals. The Red Storm also won its first-ever game at the Maggie Dixon Classic and snapped a three-game skid in the process.
"I'm very proud of our team for its effort," said St. John's head coach Joe Tartamella. "This is really a great game for us and a great win in a special event honoring Maggie Dixon. I talked to the team about that before the game and told them how much this game meant. I'm just so proud of our effort considering we came into the game with some unknowns and really proud of the way we were able to stay ahead, answer their runs and convert at the end of the game from the free throw line. Those are all things we had talked about wanting to do and do well."
Sunday's clash between St. John's and Aggies was a closely-contested affair that saw 12 lead changes and six ties leading up to a 70-70 scoreline with 29.0 seconds on the clock. The Red Storm never trailed in the second half, however, and tied its largest lead of the game at 58-50 with 7:42 remaining in the second half on a 3-pointer by senior Keylantra Langley. Another big shot from distance came courtesy of classmate Eugeneia McPherson, whose 3-pointer with 2:32 on the clock made it 64-60 after the Aggies had gotten to within a point of St. John's.
McPherson, who made her first start of the season since returning from a knee injury that forced her to miss all but five games of the 2012-13 season, finished with 14 points and a career-high seven assists and four steals while making all eight of her free throw attempts.
With Texas A&M back to within one point with under two minutes to play, sophomore Danaejah Grant marked her first appearance as a Red Storm player with a crucial long jumper that made it 68-65 St. John's with 1:24 on the clock. The game was tied at 68-all with 42 seconds remaining, and again at 70-all after a pair of free throws from McPherson were matched by a pair of free throws from the Aggies' Courtney Walker.
With the shot clock turned off and the score tied with 29.0 seconds remaining, St. John's brought the ball up the court before finding Handford at the top of the arc, who knifed through a pair of Texas A&M defenders before scoring the go-ahead basket on a tough right-handed layup.
The Aggies got one final look with 1.7 seconds remaining but could not get a shot off in time. Texas A&M got 15 points from Karla Gilbert but was outrebounded, 34-29, by the Red Storm, who led 33-30 at halftime.
After Handford carried the load with 18 first half points, St. John's shot a blistering 61.9 percent in the final 20 minutes, finishing at 50.0 percent overall for the contest aided by Handford's 11-for-18 outing. Junior Amber Thompson finished with seven points and a team-high seven rebounds, while Grant finished her St. John's debut with six points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals. Sophomore Sandra Udobi chipped in with six points and three rebounds in her first career start for the Red Storm, who also had senior center Selina Archer make her debut and make her only shot attempt in seven minutes of action.
St. John's has now won two consecutive games at "The Mecca" after losing its previous four straight outings there, including losses to national powers Baylor and Duke at the Maggie Dixon Classic.
Up next, the Red Storm returns to Carnesecca Arena to open BIG EAST Conference play at 2 p.m. on Dec. 28 against Seton Hall.