Ladies hold on against Seton Hall in Big East tourney

The St. John’s women’s basketball team took their first step to winning a conference championship by beating Seton Hall 66-60 in the second round of the Big East Tournament Sunday afternoon.

St. John’s (21-9, 13-5) had solid performances up and down the roster, especially from sophomore guard Aliyyah Handford who finished with a game-high 24 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.

“We always say she’s only a sophomore,” head coach Joe Tartamella said.  “But you look at the toughness that she shows in games, whether she’s playing great or she’s struggling or she’s playing great defense, she’s brought great toughness to our group.”

The Red Storm earned themselves the No. 2 seed in the tournament and a first-round bye but found themselves in a tight matchup against the No. 7 seed Seton Hall (18-13, 8-10).  With a first half that saw eight lead changes and seven ties, St. John’s managed to hold a 27-26 lead heading into the locker room.  St. John’s was cruising in the second half until the Pirates climbed back trailing 58-56 with 4:21 left in the game.  Thanks to some clutch free throw shooting down the stretch, the Red Storm pulled away with the victory.

“Very pleased with our effort in the second half,” Tartamella said.  “Our group has been very resilient all year, especially at the end of games.”

“We all just got it together and just played as a team,” Aliyyah Handford added. “ We just give each other a look and we just come out and play.”

Senior guard Briana Brown and sophomore guard Danaejah Grant were two of the three Lady Johnnies to score in double figures finishing with 15 and 10 points, respectively.  St. John’s took a slight edge in the battle on the boards 35-31 thanks to junior forward Amber Thompson’s game-high 10 rebounds.

St. John’s had been coming off a tough stretch limping into the Big East Tournament losing four straight games before beating Providence 63-42 in the regular season finale.

“We needed to get a win (against Providence) coming in here,” Tartamella said.  This was just another indication of our players understanding that our room for error is not very large.”

St. John’s finished the season with four student-athletes receiving postseason Big East honors.  Senior guard Eugeniea McPherson was named the recipient of the 2013-14 Sportsmanship Award, Alliyah Handford was a unanimous selection to the All-Big East First Team, Amber Thompson was a Big East Honorable Mention and freshman forward Jade Walker was named to the All-Freshman Team.

St. John’s will take on No. 3 seeded Creighton in the semifinals Monday at 4 p.m.